/ Health, Shopping

Are targeted painkillers a waste of money?

Have you ever bought targeted painkillers for migraine, period or muscle pain? If you have, you might have bought the same product three times over…

The Australian Federal Court has ordered the manufacturers of best-selling painkiller Nurofen to remove its targeted range of painkillers from Australian shops.

The fast-acting Nurofen painkillers (ibuprofen lysine) for ailments such as period pain, migraine and tension headache contained exactly the same product, but were packaged differently.

Targeted painkillers

We don’t have those exact products in the UK, but our own investigations have found similar goings on. You might think that Nurofen Migraine Pain and Nurofen Tension Headache caplets would target your migraine or tension headaches respectively, but you’d be wrong. Ibuprofen can’t target pain in specific body parts.

Nurofen Migraine Pain and Nurofen Tension Headache are exactly the same as each other. They’re also identical to Nurofen Express caplets (available until recently), which can be as much as 2p cheaper per caplet.

Nurofen defends the sale of targeted painkillers, saying that they can help consumers choose the right one.

Generic painkillers

Shopping around can also pay dividends, as well as careful scrutiny of the packaging. Most leading pharmacies and supermarkets also sell generic versions of fast-acting ibuprofen, at as little as a third of the cost per tablet of Nurofen. They’re not identical to the Nurofen tablets, but they do contain the same active ingredients (342mg ibuprofen lysine).

We found 14 products that are all identical to each other, ranging from 8p a tablet at Wilko to 20p per tablet at Boots and Superdrug. They are variously sold as ‘migraine relief’, ‘period pain relief’, ‘express pain relief’ and ‘rapid pain relief, but are actually made at the same production site (labs) to exactly the same formulation.

If you examine the fine print, you’ll find all these products carry the same marketing product licence number. This means that they’re the same, but the licence allows them to be sold under different names.

So you can ignore targeted marketing if you’re clear you’re taking the right ingredient and dose. For example, a man taking Feminax Express – marketed for period pain – will simply be getting 342mg of ibuprofen lysine!

I’ll leave you with one interesting nugget though – there’s a big placebo effect when it comes to medicines. The higher the cost of the painkiller you take and the nicer the packaging, the better the product works on people who take it, even when we know we’re taking a placebo.

Do you agree that we don’t need to buy targeted painkillers? Do you always buy generic and cheap painkillers?

Useful links

The health products you don’t need


Here is a document giving advice on the labelling and packaging of medicines: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/474366/Best_practice_guidance_labelling_and_packaging_of_medicines.pdf

Section 7.3 refers to a code of practice, and there is some sensible advice to keep the marketing people in check regarding their claims. Unfortunately there seems to be no reference to the issue of the need to avoid making false claims about targeting of action of oral drugs – the subject of this Conversation.

Perhaps an update is needed.


Oops! Should read “avoid all pills containing it!”


Wavechange, you may notice a difference if you decided to leave it off, but no need to if it doesn’t bother you. I have friends and relatives that also thrive on it which only demonstrates everyone’s uniqueness. It’s a different matter of course when caffeine is put into generic meds.


I see it as important that people are aware that some over-the-counter medicines contain caffeine, but if drinking coffee, tea and some soft drinks can provide caffeine, then maybe that’s a better way of giving the customer the choice.


Good point Wavechange, a less expensive standard generic pill swallowed down with a cup of caffeinated whatever you prefer could save you quite a bit.

Still haven’t worked out how you manage to sleep after drinking caffeinated coffee though!


I hope that inclusion of caffeine in medicines does not encourage their use to obtain the stimulatory effect.

My coffee intake is a habit rather than an dependence. I’ve drunk decaffeinated coffee for a week and not really noticed much difference. I’m not going to lose sleep about why drinking it does not keep me awake. 🙂


Apologies for veering a bit off topic but at last I may have shed some light on it……..

YouTube.com – Scientists agree: Coffee Naps Are Better Than Coffee Or Naps Alone.

Interesting stuff, definitely not what the title implies 🙂


There is no such thing as a targeted painkiller. They are distributed randomly throughout the body by the bloodstream and only a small percentage of the painkiller acts on the pain. A fair proportion is destroyed as it passes through the body.
There are only really 3 painkillers on the market that can be bought almost anywhere; aspirin,paracetamol and ibuprofen. Virtually all proprietary painkillers are a combination of one or two of these with,sometimes ,caffeine. Add on a trade name and the price over generic painkillers doubles and trebles. Add on a target such as migraine or period pain and price goes up again. The moral is take the GENERIC (unbranded) painkiller which suits you. Forget the drug company hype and save money


daver- I take it you are talking about general painkillers bought from a chemist shop by the public ? Otherwise in the cases of clinical diagnosis and the issue of medicines issued by a hospital or GP for certain clinical conditions I know for a fact there are many which “target ” certain organic illnesses in human beings this is one of the benefit of modern chemical discovery ,not only that many millions of people worldwide are kept alive in a relatively “pain-free ” condition due to the action of those drugs . I should know I am on ones at this very moment and if I wasnt my “raison etre ” for living would be very much diminished .