Written by Divinity Nutra, Updated on March 13, 2023

Is Acetaminophen an NSAID

Acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are both commonly used to relieve pain and reduce fever. There is often confusion about the classification of acetaminophen and how it works. Is acetaminophen an NSAID?

This article aims to clarify the relationship between acetaminophen and NSAIDs and explore whether or not acetaminophen can impact inflammation and swelling in the body.

What is an NSAID?

An NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug) is a type of medication used to treat pain, fever, and inflammation. It works by blocking the production of prostaglandins, which are hormone-like substances that play a role in inflammation, pain, and fever.

By reducing the number of prostaglandins in the body, NSAIDs can help reduce inflammation and pain. They do this by inhibiting the activity of two enzymes, COX-1 and COX-2, both of which are involved in prostaglandin creation, one of the major causes of inflammation.

Is Acetaminophen an NSAID?

No, acetaminophen is not an NSAID. Acetaminophen has a slightly different mechanism of action than that of an NSAID.

Most common acetaminophen brands: Tylenol, Excedrin (also contains Aspirin), Midol, Panadol, Mapap, Actamin, Ofirmev, Valorin, Q-Pap, Lemsip, FeverAll

How Does Acetaminophen Work?

Acetaminophen also works by inhibiting the production of prostaglandins. However, unlike NSAIDs, which block both COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes, acetaminophen selectively inhibits COX-2 enzymes in the brain, which reduces fever and pain.

Acetaminophen may also work by increasing the body’s production of natural painkillers, known as endorphins. In other words, it effectively blocks pain signals but does not reduce inflammation or swelling.

Common Uses for Acetaminophen

Here are some of the most common uses for acetaminophen:

  • Pain relief: Acetaminophen is commonly used to relieve mild to modest pain, including headaches, toothaches, menstrual cramps, and pain from arthritis or injury.
  • Fever reduction: Acetaminophen can help reduce fever, making it a common treatment for colds, flu, and other infections.
  • Post-surgery pain relief: Acetaminophen is often used to manage pain following surgery or dental procedures.
  • Pain relief for children: Acetaminophen is one of the few pain relievers considered safe for children, and is commonly used to treat fever and mild to moderate pain in children.
  • Combination with other medications: Acetaminophen is often combined with other medications, such as opioids or antihistamines, to enhance their pain-relieving effects or reduce fever.

Acetaminophen Side Effects

Here are the most common side effects of acetaminophen:

  • Nausea and vomiting: Acetaminophen can cause an upset stomach, leading to nausea and vomiting.
  • Liver damage: Acetaminophen can be toxic to the liver, especially if taken in large amounts or over a long period. Symptoms of liver damage may include yellowing of the skin or eyes, abdominal pain, and dark urine.
  • Kidney damage: In rare cases, acetaminophen can cause kidney damage. Symptoms may include decreased urine output, swelling of the legs or ankles, and fatigue.
  • Allergic reaction: Some people may be allergic to acetaminophen, which can cause symptoms such as hives, itching, and difficulty breathing.
  • Skin rash: Acetaminophen can sometimes cause a skin rash or other allergic reaction.
  • Headache: Ironically, acetaminophen can sometimes cause headaches as a side effect.
  • Low blood sugar: Acetaminophen can also cause low blood sugar levels, which can lead to symptoms such as weakness, dizziness, and confusion.

If you experience any adverse reactions, stop taking acetaminophen and speak to your doctor or primary care physician.

Safety Precautions for Acetaminophen

People should take the following safety precautions to use acetaminophen safely:

  • Stick to the recommended dosage: It is important to follow the suggested dosage listed on the label or as directed by a healthcare provider.
  • Avoid alcohol: Drinking alcohol while taking acetaminophen can increase the risk of liver damage.
  • Tell your doctor about any medical conditions: People with liver disease, kidney disease, and other medical conditions should talk to their doctor before taking acetaminophen.
  • Don’t take it with other medications: Acetaminophen is an active ingredient in many over-the-counter and prescription medications. Taking multiple medications that contain acetaminophen can lead to an overdose.
  • Avoid long-term use: Long-term use of acetaminophen can lead to liver damage, so it is important to only use the medication for short-term pain relief.
  • Store properly: Acetaminophen should be stored at room temperature and kept out of reach of children.

Acetaminophen vs Ibuprofen

To reiterate some points from earlier, acetaminophen is not considered an NSAID because it does not block COX enzymes in the same fashion as ibuprofen.

Ibuprofen primarily blocks COX-2, which is responsible for inflammation, and secondarily blocks COX-1, which protects the stomach lining.

Acetaminophen works differently by blocking the production of prostaglandins in the brain and spinal cord, which reduces pain and fever but does not have an anti-inflammatory effect like NSAIDs.

Another key difference is that ibuprofen is more likely to cause gastrointestinal side effects, while acetaminophen is more likely to cause liver damage in high doses.

OTC Alternatives to Acetaminophen

Remember, acetaminophen can’t reduce swelling or inflammation, it can only block those pain signals. If you’re trying to reduce inflammation you may want to consider trying NSAIDs, or other home remedies for inflammation.

NSAID Brands

Here are the most common types of NSAIDs along with their well-recognized over-the-counter brands:

  • Ibuprofen: Advil, Motrin, Nuprin
  • Aspirin: Bayer, Bufferin, Excedrin, Ecotrin, Anacin
  • Naproxen: Aleve, Naprosyn, Anaprox, Mediproxen

How to Decrease Inflammation Naturally

If you’d like to skip medications altogether and take a more holistic approach to pain relief, the strategies outlined below are proven ways to diminish the symptoms of inflammation long-term.

  • Eat less inflammatory foods: Reduce your intake of inflammatory foods, such as processed and fried foods, sugary drinks, and refined carbohydrates.
  • Try an anti-inflammatory diet: An anti-inflammatory diet includes foods that are rich in anti-inflammatory compounds, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats.
  • Make lifestyle modifications: Certain lifestyle habits can contribute to inflammation, such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and stress. Get these issues under control.
  • Take dietary supplements: Consider using anti-inflammatory herbs and spices like curcumin, black pepper, and ginger.

It can be difficult to decide which natural anti-inflammatory to take. So here are three of the best supplements to reduce inflammation and pain.

Turmeric contains an active compound called curcumin, which has powerful anti-inflammatory effects. Curcumin inhibits the activity of enzymes and molecules that cause inflammation in the body, leading to a reduction in swelling and pain.

Apple cider vinegar has acetic acid, which has anti-inflammatory effects on the body. Additionally, apple cider vinegar can promote the growth of good gut bacteria, which also helps reduce inflammation in the body.

Elderberry contains bioactive compounds such as anthocyanins and flavonoids that have anti-inflammatory properties. Elderberry may also help to reduce oxidative stress, another factor that can contribute to inflammation in the body.

Acetaminophen and NSAIDs: Final Thoughts

Is acetaminophen an anti-inflammatory? The answer is no. Acetaminophen is not considered an NSAID, but it is still an effective pain reliever and fever reducer. Unlike NSAIDs, it does not reduce inflammation in the body, but it can be used safely to manage pain and fever.

However, it is important to follow dosage instructions carefully and be aware of potential side effects and drug interactions. As always, it is best to consult with a medical professional before starting any new medication.