Different Panadol for different aches?

Panadol Extra, which targets severe headaches, has an extra 65mg of caffeine added for better pain relief.

Touted as Singapore's favourite pain reliever by its manufacturer GSK, Panadol products are targeted at ailments ranging from menstrual cramps to the common cold.

They range in price from around $6.50 per box of general-purpose, no-frills pills, to $9.80 for Panadol for coughs and colds - but how different are they really?

Earlier this month, the Australian Federal Court fined pharmaceutical company Reckitt Benckiser A$1.7 million (S$1.69 million) for misleading customers.

The company's line of Nurofen Specific Pain products were packaged in a way that suggested they were each formulated to treat a specific type of pain.

However, the products were actually identical. Each one contained 342mg of ibuprofen lysine, a pain-killing drug.

In contrast, most types of Panadol sold here contain around 500mg of paracetamol, another common painkiller, as well as extra ingredients that set products apart from one another, say the experts.

For example, said Ms Jocelyn Ling, a senior pharmacist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, the cough and cold formula contains ingredients to clear blocked noses and chest congestion.

And Panadol Extra, which targets severe headaches, has an extra 65mg of caffeine added for better pain relief.

These products contain different active ingredients, and hence the effects will be different, Ms Ling said.

Just because these amounts seem small compared with the amount of paracetamol does not mean they are ineffective, said Professor Paul Ho from the pharmacy department in the National University of Singapore's science faculty.

"Different drugs have different potencies, and these amounts are generally regarded to be effective," he said. "But sometimes, the benefit could be marginal."

The Health Sciences Authority told The Straits Times it assessed and classified different Panadol products by looking at the active ingredients in each product.

"These ingredients are added to complement the effect of paracetamol to manage different medical conditions," a spokesman said.

Still, one could save a dollar or two by picking the right type of Panadol to suit one's needs.

Said Prof Ho: "If you just want to relieve menstrual pain, the generic Panadol will do as well."

This article was first published on May 24, 2016.
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