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How much can you save with generic pain relief? Brand vs Generic

Karen Shaw photo

Created: 12 December, 2017

Updated: 23 October, 2019

When it comes to buying over the counter painkillers, you’ll often find that the cost is quite high.

No one wants to spend money unnecessarily, and in this case, you’ll often find that cheaper, supermarket-brand medicine will treat your pain just as effectively as a brand name.

Push Doctor pharmacist Karen Shaw explains how you can spend less on your pain medication, without compromising on the quality of your treatment.

drugs table

Pain Relief

Nurofen Migraine Pain (£3.29)

This is specifically marketed to target migraines, but it’s really not that different from most other ibuprofen-based products, so there’s no reason to pay more. Using regular ibuprofen is likely to be just as effective.

If you’ve been getting frequent migraines, you should see your doctor about it. There may be an underlying cause that needs more than the temporary fix your painkillers are providing.

You could save: £3.04

Solpadeine Max Soluble (£6.99)

Solpadeine Max Soluble is a compound analgesic that combines 500mg of paracetamol with a 12.8mg dose of codeine. Most other painkillers containing codeine have just 8mg.

You’d be forgiven for assuming that the larger dose of codeine means your pain will go away faster and justify this medicine’s hefty price tag. However, studies have shown that raising the codeine dose by such a small amount doesn’t increase its effectiveness, so it’s possible that you’re paying more for nothing.

If you’re going to try a painkiller containing codeine, there are a few things you should know. The larger dose in Solpadeine increases your chance of side effects, such as constipation or drowsiness, while codeine can also become addictive if you use it too often.

You should use painkillers at the lowest possible dose required to be effective, so a regular dose of paracetamol is often enough to treat your pain.

You could save: £6.80

Panadol Actifast (£2.99)

This medication claims to act twice as fast as standard paracetamol. The key ingredient is sodium bicarbonate, which supposedly dissolves the tablets faster in your stomach and moves it along to the small intestine, where it can be absorbed into your body.

However, studies show that the rate medicine is absorbed can differ depending on a number of factors, including whether you’ve eaten or not.

If you’re really suffering and need fast relief, choosing a standard 500mg dose of paracetamol instead of the usual 200mg should be enough to provide the fast relief you need.

You could save: £2.80

Panadol Night Pain (£4.49)

Panadol Night Pain is aimed at people who are dealing with such discomfort that they can’t get to sleep. It contains a sedative element, but this shouldn’t be necessary if you simply take an effective dose of regular paracetamol.

Using medication to help you sleep is not something you want to become a habit either, so if insomnia is a frequent problem, talk to your doctor about it.

You could save: £4.30

Colds and Flu

Lemsip Max Cold & Flu Lemon Sachets (£3.99) and Beechams Max Strength All in One Capsules (£3.30)

Contains phenylephrine, which acts as a decongestant. However, there’s very little evidence to suggest that it’s more effective than cheaper alternatives.

It contains guaifenesin, which is meant to act as an expectorant (something that makes you cough to help remove mucus from your airways). However, it’s present in such a low dose that it’s not guaranteed to have this effect.

When it comes to treating the symptoms of cold or flu, taking medicine that tries to deal with everything at once is always a bit of a lottery. You’d be better off focusing on each symptom individually - take paracetamol to lower your fever and inhale steam to deal with a blocked nose.

You could save: £3.80 (Lemsip), £3.11 (Beechams)

Period Pains

Feminax Express (£4.50)

As you’d expect, this type of product is marketed specifically at women to treat period pain and cramps. It can certainly do this, but at the end of the day, the main ingredient is regular ibuprofen.

Feminax Express does also claim to absorb the medicine up to twice as fast as regular ibuprofen, but it’s worth investigating whether a cheaper option will work just as well for you.

You could save: £4.25

Nurofen Express Ibuprofen (£3.19)

Nurofen Express Ibuprofen offers something a little different, as it contains potassium hydroxide. This is intended to help the ibuprofen be effective in as little as 10 minutes.

Of course, everyone’s body is different, so whenever a claim like this is made, it’s worth seeing if regular ibuprofen does the trick before spending more than you need to.

You could save: £2.94

Panadol Period Pain (£2.49)

Apart from the standard dose of paracetamol, this product also contains a small amount of caffeine, which is designed to prevent the sluggishness menstrual cramps can cause.

However, there’s limited evidence that caffeine works in this situation. Even if it does help you, you can get the same effect from buying a cheaper pack of regular paracetamol and having a cup of coffee! If you’re able to tolerate it, ibuprofen may also do a better job than paracetamol at managing your pain.

You could save: £2.30

What is paracetamol?

One of the most popular painkillers in the UK, paracetamol is used to reduce pain or bring a fever down. It’s commonly used for aches and pains, colds and flu, while it can also be used as a short term solution until you can get proper treatment - for example, if you get a toothache but have to wait for a dental appointment.

There are a number of reasons why paracetamol is so popular.

  • Unlike other painkillers, such as aspirin, it’s safe for children over 2 months old (aspirin shouldn’t be given to children under 16).
  • It can be taken during pregnancy or breastfeeding without posing a risk to your baby’s health.
  • The vast majority of people don’t get side effects.

As you’ll have noticed during this article, many brands that contain paracetamol also contain other ingredients, so it’s important to be aware of exactly what you’re taking. You should also be careful about taking paracetamol if you’re already on another form of medication.

Always ask your doctor or pharmacist if you’re unsure.

Cheapest Paracetamol

What is ibuprofen?

Ibuprofen is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) used to treat mild to moderate pain, lower a fever and reduce inflammation in conditions such as arthritis or a sprained ankle.

While ibuprofen is available over the counter, there are a number of situations where it’s best to find an alternative, such as:

  • If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding
  • If you have asthma
  • If you have high blood pressure or a history of heart problems or stroke
  • If you have Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
  • If you have a health condition that affects your liver or kidneys

Ibuprofen doesn’t mix well with certain medications either, so you should tell your doctor or pharmacist if you’re taking anything else.

There are also a number of common side effects to be aware of, including:

Cheapest Ibuprofen

More about medication

If you’re not sure which medication is best for you, our doctors can provide a diagnosis today. They can recommend an over-the-counter medicine or if needed, write you a prescription.

Topics: Health and Wellbeing