The manufacturer of Celebrex (celecoxib) spends millions of dollars a year advertising the pain reliever, with considerable success: The drug brought in $1.7 billion in U.S. sales in 2010. But that doesn't mean that it's better than related medications, called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), on the market.
Our new Best Buy Drugs report on NSAIDs found that ibuprofen (Advil and generic) and naproxen (Aleve and generic) are just as safe and effective as Celebrex. And they are much cheaper, too, especially when you buy the generic version: You can get a month's supply of generic ibuprofen or naproxen for as little as $4. In contrast, a month's supply of Celebrex is $76 to $199, depending on dose.
But you should use caution when taking any NSAID, including our two Best Buy picks. All increase the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding, stomach ulcers, and kidney failure as well as high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.
That's why we recommend the unrelated drug acetaminophen (Tylenol and generic) as a first choice for most people who need relief from mild to moderate pain from osteoarthritis, headaches, and muscle pain. That's especially true for people who have a history of ulcers, bleeding, kidney disease, or any form of cardiovascular disease. (But even acetaminophen requires caution, since taking just a little more the maximum recommended daily dose for a few days can damage the liver.)
Aspirin can be a good choice for pain relief in people with heart disease, since it reduces the risk of heart attacks in men and strokes in women, by preventing blood clots. But it's not for everyone, since like other NSAIDs it increases the risk of gastrointestinal and other bleeding. See our advice when aspirin can make sense for you.
If you end up taking ibuprofen, naproxen, or any other NSAID, make sure your doctor periodically assesses your risk of heart problems and gastrointestinal bleeding, and checks to see if it might interact with other drugs or supplements you take.
--Steve Mitchell, associate editor, Consumer Reports Health Best Buy Drugs