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What Is the Active Ingredient in Aleve®?

By Jeremy Laukkonen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The active ingredient in Aleve® is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) known as naproxen sodium. Like of other NSAIDs, naproxen sodium functions by inhibiting the cyclooxygenase (COX) enzyme, which can reduce inflammation and also lower fevers. In addition to working as an anti-inflammatory and fever reducer, naproxen sodium can also be used as a general pain reliever. Naproxen is the component that actually inhibits the COX enzyme, while the sodium included in each dose simply helps the body absorb the drug. As the active ingredient in Aleve®, naproxen sodium also has the potential to cause a number of side effects, including cardiovascular issues, gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding, and a reduction in the effectiveness of selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor (SSRIs) anti-depressant drugs.

Aleve® is a product that falls into the categories of anti-inflammatory, antipyretic, and pain relieving drugs. This is due to the fact that the active ingredient in Aleve® is a type of NSAID with analgesic, fever reducing, and anti-inflammatory properties. Other common NSAIDs include ibuprofen and aspirin, which are the active ingredients in other over the counter (OTC) analgesic drugs. One of the distinguishing characteristics of naproxen sodium is that its effects last longer than many other common pain relievers, with one dose being capable of relieving pain for up to nine hours.

Each NSAID, including Aleve®, functions through the same basic means of inhibiting the COX enzyme. This has a variety of different effects in the body, though the precise mechanisms are not all fully understood. One result of inhibiting the COX enzyme is that the production of prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) in the hypothalamus is also inhibited. Since one of the functions of PGE2 is to increase body temperature, this can effectively reduce a fever.

Inhibiting the COX enzyme can also reduce inflammation. This is due to the fact that prostoglandins act as messenger molecules to facilitate the inflammation process. Since the production of these messenger molecules is interrupted by naproxen and other NSAIDs, the process can effectively be halted. This can be constrasted with steroids, which reduce inflammation by binding with glucocorticoid receptors.

In addition to the many beneficial uses of the active ingredient in Aleve®, there are also a number of potential side effects. NSAIDs are capable of reducing the effectiveness of SSRI anti-depressants, so people who are on those drugs are typically advised to look for alternative pain relievers and fever reducers. Naproxen use also carries the risk of certain heart-related conditions, though studies have shown these effects are 50% more likely with ibuprofen use. Gastrointestinal issues, such as ulceration and bleeding, can also result from naproxen use, especially at higher dosages or when used regularly for an extended time.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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Discussion Comments
By Cageybird — On Jun 20, 2014

I've heard that if an NSAID like aspirin were introduced today, it would be considered a controlled substance and we'd all need a prescription to get it. I don't know about that, but I will say that two Aleve tablets work just about as well as any regular strength prescription painkiller I've ever taken.

There are other types of OTC pain pills that will help lessen the effects of a headache or ease muscle pain, but I find that an NSAID like Aleve will take care of actual inflammation better than anything else. I don't understand some of the chemistry mentioned in the article, but I feel like naproxen sodium gets at an illness differently than other pain relievers like Tylenol. If I have a fever, I'll reach for an NSAID first.

By mrwormy — On Jun 19, 2014

I usually buy the generic version of Aleve, just called naproxen sodium or Naprox. It's much cheaper than the name brand, and just as effective in my opinion. I don't take it for long periods of time, though, because of the risk of liver damage. Sometimes my shoulder muscles will get inflamed and I find that two naproxen sodium tablets will knock out the pain for at least 24 hours.

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