What Pain Reliever Works The Fastest: Tylenol, Advil Or Aleve?

In our latest question and answer, the pharmacist discusses which pain reliever works the fastest, Tylenol, Advil or Aleve.

What Pain Reliever Works The Fastest: Tylenol, Advil Or Aleve?
Feb 17, 2018

ashleigh asked

Can you tell me which pain reliever works the fastest? Tylenol, Advil or Aleve. I often have pain and aches and wanted to know which has the fastest onset of action.


Advil Tylenol AleveTylenol, Advil and Aleve all have different time to initial effect, time to peak effect, and half-life (duration of action). Acetaminophen will likely start working the fastest and reach peak effect the fastest, albeit each will likely begin working within 1 hour. Below we will discuss more about how they differ in this regard.


Aleve (naproxen) is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) that is commonly used to treat a variety of ailments including mild to moderate pain, headache, and fever. Naproxen has a half-life of 12-17 hours. Naproxen is absorbed completely in the GI tract and typically starts working within 30 minutes to 1 hour. When taken with food it absorbs at a slower rate and therefore may take a bit longer to work. The peak effect takes place within 2-4 hours and the half-life is 12-17 hours.

Half-life is a commonly used pharmaceutical term to describe the time it takes to reduce the concentration by 50%. The drug usually remains in your body much longer than that, but the effect typically dwindles substantially after 50%. In the case of naproxen, the drug is broken down into its primary metabolite, 6-O-desmethyl naproxen, and is later excreted extensively in the urine.


Advil or Motrin (ibuprofen) is also an NSAID that is used in a similar way as naproxen. Ibuprofen has a half-life of around 2-4 hours. Ibuprofen is absorbed well in the GI tract with about 80% of the drug being absorbed. The peak effect of ibuprofen takes place in about 2 hours with tablets, 1 hour with chewable tablets, and 45 minutes with suspension. The pain relief effects typically begin within 30 minutes to 1 hour. Taking ibuprofen with food can decrease the absorption slightly.


Tylenol (acetaminophen) is an analgesic that can be taken for a wide variety of acute and chronic pain ailments. Acetaminophen has a half-life of 2-3 hours. Acetaminophen gets absorbed at 85-98% and reaches peak concentrations within 30-60 minutes. Typically, acetaminophen can start working within 15 minutes. Taking this medication with food slightly decreases the peak effect. Benefits for acetaminophen over NSAIDs include less likelihood to cause GI issues, bleeding, and kidney dysfunction. Acetaminophen can have negative impacts on the liver, especially at higher doses for an extended period of time.

Each of these medications will start working within an hour, but acetaminophen will most likely start working slightly faster than the others. Naproxen will work the longest.

Ready for a more personal experience with your meds?