Key Differences Between Paracetamol and Ibuprofen

Today, we'll talk about the differences between paracetamol and ibuprofen, two drugs commonly prescribed by pediatricians.
Key Differences Between Paracetamol and Ibuprofen

Last update: 29 April, 2021

Paracetamol and ibuprofen are two drugs that pediatricians commonly prescribe for episodes of pain or fever. They’re very effective drugs that are often used very quickly in a variety of situations. However, they’re not free of effects that we need to be aware of.

Fever is one of the symptoms that most alarm parents. Because of this concern, it’s a very common reason for visiting the pediatrician. Doctors often prescribe both paracetamol and ibuprofen to deal with this condition.

But can they be used interchangeably? What are their differences? Is it good to combine them? And do they have side effects? Let’s see below.

What is paracetamol and how does it work?

Paracetamol, or acetaminophen, is a prostaglandin synthesis inhibitor. It has analgesic and antipyretic properties for mild to moderate pain and fever. However, it doesn’t have anti-inflammatory action. It’s marketed under the well-known brand name Tylenol, among others.

It’s available in different options on the market, such as the following:

  • Oral solution.
  • Sachets with powder to dissolve in water.
  • Sachets with effervescent granules.
  • Orodispersible tablets.
  • In case of vomiting, for example, paracetamol is also available in the form of rectal suppositories.
Key Differences Between Paracetamol and Ibuprofen

It has no gastrointestinal side effects, which is an advantage over other similar drugs. In fact, it’s the most popular antipyretic. At high doses, significant liver toxicity may occur. In this case, it’s necessary to go urgently to the hospital.

What’s ibuprofen and how does it work?

Ibuprofen is a drug that’s among the group of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs. It acts by inhibiting the cyclooxygenase enzyme, both centrally and peripherally.

The main use of this drug is in the treatment of fever and mild or moderate pain due to various causes. You can find it on the mark under the well-known brand names of Advil and Motrin, among others.

In children over 5 years of age, it’s shown to have greater antipyretic capacity than paracetamol. However, many prefer the latter due to the lower incidence of adverse effects. You should never use it in children under 3 months of age.

Oral administration may cause digestive discomfort, so it should always be taken with food. Gastrointestinal reactions are the main adverse effects that ibuprofen can cause. However, it should be used with caution in patients with asthma, as it can cause serious side effects, or with renal pathology, among others.

In children over 12 years of age, there are topical analgesic and anti-inflammatory applications for the local treatment of some sprains, bruises, contusions, or contractures.

Main differences between paracetamol and ibuprofen

Although we’ve already mentioned certain differences between these two drugs, we’ll now summarize the most important ones, such as the following:

Key Differences Between Paracetamol and Ibuprofen
  • Paracetamol has no anti-inflammatory effect.
  • In general, paracetamol can be administered every 4 to 6 hours, while ibuprofen doses should be 6 to 8 hours apart.
  • Children under 3 months of age shouldn’t take ibuprofen.
  • Apart from the oral route, paracetamol’s available in the form of suppositories, while ibuprofen’s available in the form of topical creams for children over 12 years of age.
  • Ibuprofen has more gastrointestinal adverse effects than paracetamol.
  • In children aged 5 years and older, ibuprofen usually has more analgesic and antipyretic capacity than paracetamol.

Paracetamol and ibuprofen in pediatrics

As we mentioned above, pediatricians prescribe these drugs for the treatment of pain and fever in children. However, with regard to fever, you should remember that it’s not a disease per se. It is, in fact, a manifestation of the action of the immune system in the body. Therefore, it should only be treated when it’s accompanied by discomfort.

In general, you shouldn’t combine the use of these two drugs to reduce fever, unless your pediatrician expressly indicates it. The pediatrician usually recommends it in specific cases when the discomfort reappears before the next dose of antipyretics or doesn’t disappear with the prescribed treatment. Often, alternating the use of these drugs only multiplies the side effects.

However, before modifying any treatment on your own, you should consult your physician. Don’t forget that these are prescription drugs that shouldn’t be used without express indication. Self-medication involves serious risks and can lead to the appearance of undesirable effects.


All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Gómez-Toscano, V. (2019). Uso de antipiréticos en Pediatría. Acta Pediátrica de México39(6), 385-388.
  • Aguado, I. C., López, I. J., Pinilla, M. L. C., García, I. C., Bengoechea, P. B., Fernández, M. B., & Contreras, J. R. (2005, February). Eficacia de ibuprofeno y paracetamol como antitérmicos. In Anales de Pediatría (Vol. 62, No. 2, pp. 117-122). Elsevier Doyma.
  • Maixé, J., & Miró, J. (2016). Creencias y actitudes de los pediatras sobre el dolor. Revista de la Sociedad Española del Dolor23(1), 16-22.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.