Can You Take Motrin and Tylenol Together?

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Usually, doctors try to limit polypharmacy, or your exposure to excess or redundant medications. Thus, if you present with a sore throat that needs antibiotics, you'll receive a prescription for one type of antibiotic, not a prescription for several types of antibiotics.

But does this guidance apply to over-the-counter pain medications, too?

Risks of Polypharmacy

Polypharmacy is problematic for a number of reasons:

  • The more medications that you take, the greater the risk of adverse effects or drug-drug interactions.
  • You may accidentally take two drugs that both contain the same ingredient (such as acetaminophen), increasing your risk of toxicity.
  • Polypharmacy often represents a scattered approach to treatment, allowing treatment overlap and often undermining one drug therapy with another.
  • Polypharmacy can present a risk to public health when the haphazard use of antibiotics and other drugs lead to widespread drug resistance and the possible development of superbugs.

However, there are some exceptions: A doctor may sometimes recommend a combination of both Tylenol (acetaminophen) and Motrin (ibuprofen).

Some evidence suggests prolonged use of Tylenol and Motrin together may increase the risk of upper gastrointestinal bleeding more than Motrin alone. However, their combined use can sometimes reduce pain enough that you don't need stronger opioid medications.

About Tylenol

Tylenol is a type of analgesic that changes the way we perceive pain and lowers the temperature of our bodies (antipyretic). It is often combined with other medications to develop different pain formulations.

Although the exact mechanism of Tylenol remains unclear, we believe this medication works by inhibiting cyclo-oxygenase (primarily COX-2).

Because Tylenol is metabolized in part by the liver, people with liver issues must take lower dosages than typically prescribed and closely follow any specific recommendations from their physician.

Tylenol should be taken for pain no longer than 10 days unless prescribed by a doctor.

About Motrin

Motrin is an NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug). Like Tylenol, it exerts its effects on cyclo-oxygenase and inhibits prostaglandin synthesis. Prostaglandins mediate pain, inflammation, and fever.

Inhibition in prostaglandin synthesis also results in vasoconstriction and renal impairment which can lead to kidney failure.

Thus, people with kidney problems should steer clear of Motrin. NSAIDs also should only be used for 10 days unless prescribed by a doctor.

As with other NSAIDs, such as aspirin and Aleve (naproxen), Motrin may cause stomach ulcers and gastrointestinal bleeding if overused.

Combining Tylenol and Motrin

Interestingly, despite being a common practice, very little research has been done on the co-administration of Tylenol and Motrin.

Some of the earliest research was conducted among children. However, it's hard to draw exact correlations between pain and fever relief in children and that of adults.

Specifically, children who are prescribed both Tylenol and Motrin for pain and fever usually receive these medications as alternate dosages.

A small study conducted by the University of Auckland suggested that, when taken together in mixed formulation called Maxigesic, acetaminophen and ibuprofen provided better pain relief than using the drugs on their own.

Similarly, results from a systematic review published in Pain Medicine suggested that the combination of acetaminophen and an NSAID was more effective together than alone.

As noted above, the combination of the two drugs may increase the risk of upper GI bleeding. Keeping the total dose of Tylenol to less than 2 grams per day may prevent this added risk.

Opioids With Tylenol or Motrin

Opioid abuse is on the rise, and we are currently in the throes of a national crisis. Opioids are prescription medications that have serious long-term side effects and a high potential for dependence and abuse.

Furthermore, certain opioid formulations contain acetaminophen or ibuprofen, such as:

If these drugs are taken with additional Tylenol or Motrin, they can increase the risk of serious side effects, including:

  • Liver toxicity
  • Liver failure
  • Gastrointestinal bleeding
  • Kidney injury

A Word From Verywell

While acetaminophen and ibuprofen are relatively safe and effective when used together, there are considerations you need to make.

To avoid overuse, always check the label of any multi-symptom cold, flu, or allergy remedy you may be taking. Many of these contain acetaminophen or an NSAID for added pain relief.

It is also important to remember that Tylenol or Motrin are only intended for short-term use. If your pain persists, call your doctor. If you have liver or kidney problems, you should talk to your doctor first before taking Tylenol or Motrin.

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