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What OTC Ingredients Are Lurking in Your Arthritis Drug?

Do you know what OTC ingredients are in your meds? How do Aleve pills differ from Aleve Arthritis Pain Gel and AleveX Pain Relieving Lotion?
What OTC Ingredients Are Lurking in Your Arthritis Drug?
RIVER FALLS, WISCONSIN-OCTOBER 24, 2014: A box of Aleve Liquid Gels pain reliever. This is a product of Bayer Healthcare LLC.

You have no doubt heard or seen the Capital One commercial that asks: “What’s in Your Wallet?” It’s been running for at least two decades. We ask a different question: What’s in Your Medicine? Most people have no idea what OTC ingredients are in their pain reliever, heartburn medicine or laxative. They just trust the brand name. What about Aleve? Do you know the difference between AleveX Lotion, Aleve Liquid Gels and Aleve Arthritis Pain Gel?

Brand Name “Extension”

Successful brands often expand like mushrooms after rain. Companies love to build upon success. That’s why you often see a wide range of products under an umbrella brand.

Take Clorox, for example. It was introduced as an industrial disinfectant in 1913. In 1916, the company started selling a less concentrated version for home makers. Today, there are dozens of products under the Clorox brand, from laundry bleach and fabric sanitizer to disinfecting wipes and toilet bowl cleaners.

The Tylenol Brand:

The pharmaceutical industry loves brand extension. There are few better examples than Tylenol. This pain reliever contained a single pain reliever: acetaminophen. McNeil Laboratories introduced it in 1955 as TYLENOL Elixir for Children. It initially required a doctor’s prescription. Now, however, there are more than two dozen Tylenol products on pharmacy shelves.

For example, Tylenol Cold + Flu Severe contains acetaminophen, dextromethorphan, guaifenesin and phenylephrine. Most people don’t know that dextromethorphan is a cough suppressant, guaifenesin is an expectorant and phenylephrine is a decongestant.

People often get confused by an OTC ingredients that they cannot pronounce. Once they trust a particular brand, they don’t usually check on new products under that name.

Aleve is a Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug (NSAID):

The nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicine naproxen was a popular prescription pain reliever in the 1980s. It was originally sold under the brand name Naprosyn.

The FDA approved naproxen for over-the-counter sale in 1994. The Bayer company sells it under the brand name Aleve. Naproxen is the active ingredient in oral pain reliever, Aleve Liquid Gels

What OTC Ingredients Are in New Topical Aleve Products?

Now, the company has introduced some additional products. In addition to five forms of pills, a nighttime pain reliever and a formulation for colds and sinus problems, the Aleve name is also found on several topical medications.

OTC Ingredients are probably boring for most people. They do not have much of a story line and we suspect that a lot of people barely glance at them. Drug names are also hard to pronounce or spell, much less remember.

Aleve Arthritis Pain Gel:

Many consumers may not realize that Aleve Arthritis Pain Gel contains a different NSAID than the familiar Aleve naproxen pain pills. Like Voltaren Arthritis Pain Gel, the Aleve brand gel contains diclofenac. By the way, the new Aspercreme Arthritis Pain formula also contains diclofenac gel.

The original Aspercreme formula contains trolamine salicylate. If salicylate looks a little like acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin), that’s because they both belong to a class of medicines called salicylates.

The OTC Ingredients in AleveX:

But wait, it gets even more confusing. There are now three new topical AleveX pain relieving products. There is AleveX Pain Relieving Lotion with Rollerball Applicator, AleveX Pain Relieving Lotion and AleveX Pain Relieving Spray. The active ingredients in all three products are menthol and camphor.

These are not exactly breakthrough compounds from modern pharmaceutical laboratories. Menthol is a component of many plants, but particularly mint. It has been used medicinally for more than a century.

When pharmacist Lunsford Richardson formulated Vicks VapoRub in the 1890s, menthol was considered an exotic ingredient. He also included camphor, an aromatic compound originally distilled from the bark of the camphor tree.

Television commercials featuring AleveX Pain Relieving Lotion with Rollerball Applicator make it seem as if this is an innovative new product:

“Introducing AleveX. It’s fast, powerful, long-lasting relief with a revolutionary rollerball design, because with the right pain reliever, life opens up.”

There is nothing wrong with utilizing old, herbal formulas like camphor or menthol. They are quite different from the NSAID diclofenac, though. Someone who thinks Aleve Arthritis Pain Gel is likely to have the same OTC ingredients as AleveX Pain Relieving Lotion or Aleve Liquid Gels will be disappointed. In some cases, making a mistake about OTC ingredients could be dangerous. 

We’re not opposed to brand expansion. But consumers need to learn to read labels carefully. They should also ask their pharmacists about the OTC ingredients and proper use of new products under old brand names.

You can read about the pros and cons of topical diclofenac gel at this link.

Will You Risk a Heart Attack with Diclofenac Gel?
If you use diclofenac gel to ease arthritis pain, will it increase your chance of a cardiovascular complication?

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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