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There are many different names for the over-the-counter (OTC) medications that people take to relieve arthritis pain. But most products rely on just a few ingredients to ease joint pain.

Here's what you need to know about the ingredients in OTC pain relievers, including benefits and possible side effects.

Aspirin for Arthritis Pain

Aspirin -- acetylsalicylic acid -- belongs to a family of related drugs called salicylates. It is available orally under many brand names, including Anacin, Bayer, Bufferin, Ecotrin, Excedrin, and St. Joseph. 

Aspirin relieves mild pain and fever. 

Side Effects of Aspirin

The most common side effects of aspirin are stomach pain, heartburn, indigestion, nausea, and vomiting. Stomach irritation can lead to ulcers and bleeding in the stomach.

You can reduce the risk of stomach problems by taking aspirin with food or milk.

Other possible risks of aspirin include:

  • Allergic reactions (hives, facial swelling, wheezing, and asthma)
  • Excessive bleeding and bruising
  • Ringing in the ears and slight deafness

If you experience any of these effects, stop taking the medication and call your doctor.

Arthritis Pain Relief: When Should You Avoid Aspirin?

You should not take aspirin if you know you are allergic to it. You should also avoid aspirin if you:

  • Have stomach ulcers
  • Have bleeding problems
  • Are scheduled for surgery

If you drink more than three alcoholic drinks per day, don’t take aspirin. Doing so could increase your risk of stomach upset and gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding. If you have kidney or liver disease, talk to your doctor before using aspirin.

Using Acetaminophen to Relieve Arthritis Pain

Like aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol) is used in many OTC products. And like aspirin, it relieves pain and fever. 

Acetaminophen is also the active ingredient in many products labeled "aspirin-free pain reliever" or "non-aspirin pain reliever." To be sure what you’re getting in a medicine, read the ingredients.

Acetaminophen Side Effects

When taken as directed, acetaminophen has few side effects. However, taking more than directed, taking it longer than directed, or taking it with three or more alcoholic drinks every day can cause liver damage and even liver failure.

Because acetaminophen is an ingredient in many over-the-counter and prescription medications, it is important to check your other medicines to avoid an accidental overdose. Certain people may have to take a lower dosage or may not be able to take acetaminophen at all.

In fact, to prevent accidental overdose, the maker of Extra-Strength Tylenol brand acetaminophen has reduced the maximum dose from eight pills (4,000 mg) to six pills (3,000 mg) a day.

Because the signs and symptoms of liver damage from acetaminophen may not be immediately noticeable, if you think you may have taken too much it is important to call 911 or poison control at 1800-222-1222 immediately.

You should not take acetaminophen if you have three or more alcoholic drinks daily or if you have advanced liver disease.

Choosing an OTC Pain Reliever

What you need to know to make a safe and effective choice.
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