The best pain-reliever? It’s complicated

That headline, which was used to accompany the release of a study in the Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology and Therapeutics, is the very succinct (and totally correct, in my opinion) state of the art when it comes to picking the best pain-reliever for yourself, a list that can include a host of potentially useful products including acetaminophen (Tylenol), ASA and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and prescription drugs such as diclofenac and celecoxib (Celebrex).

But here’s the rub: Although millions and millions of people use these drugs, many of them available over-the-counter, of course, the final decision about which is the safest and most effective for yourself nearly always ends up being a toss-up in which you try to balance your particular risks versus the potential benefits of each of those products.

And make no mistake: Each of those products comes with some pretty heavy potential consequences, such as, for example, a significantly increased risk of gastrointestinal symptoms and (way more worrying) bleeding with ASA, significantly higher risks of “heart events” with NSAIDS, while it’s nearly always forgotten by consumers but acetominophen comes with a much higher risk of liver damage and kidney damage (and perhaps higher risks of asthma, too).

So if you find yourself scratching your head next time you need to take an anti-inflammatory or a pain reliever, perhaps the best question to ask yourself is this: Do I really need to take anything at all?