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Nurofen gets slapdown: There’s just no such thing as targeted painkillers

Nurofen has finally been made to stop using their “fast, targeted pain relief” advertising slogans, because, well, ibuprofen doesn’t seek out and relieve pain.

In fact, there’s no pharmaceutical product that can target any one area. Just like there’s no way to burn certain kinds of fat – you can’t target belly fat, sorry – neither Nurofen nor Panadol can do any better or worse for certain kinds of pain.

Nurofen’s range includes specific products for back pain, tension headaches, migraines, and period pain, while Panadol’s range includes options for back and neck, rapid, and osteo. Plus, there’s your choice of gel caps, caplets, tablets, soluble tablets, and more.

Hero of consumers the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) won a court case against Nurofen’s maker, Reckitt Benckiser. The Federal Court has ordered that all Nurofen specific pain products be removed from retail sale within three months, and that the company post corrective notices in newspapers and online.

There are also legal costs and the potential of penalties to be paid, to be determined by the court at a later date. They may be substantial should the court determine consumers were detrimentally affected by misleading advertising.

So how do they work?

In simple terms, Panadol and Nurofen (and every other brand that offers the same treatment of ibuprofen or paracetamol) don’t do anything like target a specific region of pain.

Both are clinically proven to be efficacious and cost-effective at treating pain, with ibuprofen recently being elevated to the most efficacious treatment available for most pain causes.

The medications work by blocking enzymes which help to make chemicals called prostaglandins. Less prostaglandin means less pain and inflammation.

Interestingly, it is not known exactly how paracetamol works, but it does not reduce inflammation as much as ibuprofen. That means general health advice is to use paracetamol to treat pain only.

The type of painkiller you need depends upon the type of pain you have. Paracetamol is normally suitable if your pain is not too serious and you do not have inflammation, whereas medications such as the ibuprofen in Nurofen are generally recommended for people who have pain and inflammation, as might be the case with back pain.

Studies have shown that both paracetamol and ibuprofen together will work better than either alone, but it’s critical to be aware of overdose.

All in all, despite the packaging messages, a box of Nurofen labelled for treatment of period pain will do exactly the same thing as a box of Nurofen labelled for treatment of migraine.

What about fast-acting varieties?

One other thing to note – fast-acting pain relievers are different to a standard pain reliever. Multiple pain specialists say the difference is very short – including Dr Michael Vagg, pain specialist at Barwon Health in Victoria, who told the ABC, “Your pain might be relieved on average say three minutes quicker. If people knew this was the case, most would not bother paying extra for it.”

The ABC actually put together a brilliant five-minute clip that starts with a good discussion and ends with Reckitt Benckiser admitting ibuprofen is “nonselective” in pain relief.

As always, talk to your doctor or your pharmacist about health decisions and pain relief (and definitely not the marketing).

About the author

Tristan has a passion for tech, digital life, sport, and being told he looks better in person.

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