How Excedrin® Extra Strength Works

There’s more than one way to ease headache pain. Discover how Excedrin® tackles it on all fronts.

When your head hurts, you want to do everything you can to make it stop. But headaches are complex—there are many causes and contributors to the problem—and finding a way to ease the pain may require medication that takes a multi-pronged approach.

Excedrin® Extra Strength quiets head pain on three fronts, thanks to a specialized, triple action  combination of ingredients.1 The components—acetaminophen and aspirin, along with caffeine as an amplifier—work together to relieve your headache and let you get on with your life.2 Here’s how it works.

Acetaminophen Elevates the Pain Threshold

Acetaminophen has both pain relieving and fever reducing effects, but minimal anti-inflammatory activity. While the mechanism of action of acetaminophen is complex and not fully understood, it is believed to exert its pain reliving effect in the central nervous system and blocks the production of chemicals that might increase sensitivity to pain. The resulting effect of Acetaminophen is an elevation in the body's overall pain threshold, so you feel less pain.3

Aspirin Reduces Inflammation

Like acetaminophen, this time-tested painkiller is an effective headache reliever. However, it also works by reducing inflammation.3 Aspirin works in the peripheral nervous system to inhibit the production of inflammatory chemicals that cause swelling of the blood vessels and activation of nerves that transmit pain signals to the brain. The resulting effect helps ease the inflammation that contributes to your pain.4

Caffeine Amplifies the Pain Reliving Potency

The same compound that jump-starts your day is also a key component in Excedrin® Extra Strength.5 Caffeine has been shown to make the painkillers in Excedrin® more potent than they are on their own.6 In fact, research has demonstrated that without caffeine, a 40% higher analgesic dose would be required to achieve the same level of pain relief.6

What About the Other Formulas of Excedrin®?

Excedrin® Tension Headache contains acetaminophen and caffeine, and relieves pain in the neck and shoulders associated with tension headaches.7 Excedrin® PM Headache contains both painkillers but, of course, leaves out the caffeine (it includes a sleep aid in its place).8 It relieves headaches along with the minor aches and pains caused by sleeplessness.

A Complete Approach

Just as you’d lock all the doors in your home in order to stay safe, it’s smart to block as many pain pathways to your head as possible.9 The combination of ingredients in Excedrin® Extra Strength work together to fight your headaches.

Show References

Hide References

1. How Excedrin® Extra Strength Relieves Headaches Fast. Excedrin®, 27 June 2017,

2. “Excedrin® Extra Strength.” Excedrin®,

3. DeMaagd, George. “The Pharmacological Management Of Migraine, Part 1: Overview and Abortive Therapy.”Pharmacy and Therapeutics, MediMedia USA, Inc., July 2008,

4. Ricciotti, Emanuela, and Garret A. FitzGerald. “Prostaglandins and Inflammation.” Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, May 2011,

5. “Caffeine: A Little Bit Goes a Long Way.” National Headache Foundation, 4 Mar. 2009,

6. Laska, E M, et al. “Caffeine as an Analgesic Adjuvant.” JAMA., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 6 Apr. 1984,

7. “Excedrin® Tension Headache.” Excedrin®,

8. “Excedrin® PM Headache.” Excedrin®,

9. Straube, Andreas, et al. “Combined Analgesics in (Headache) Pain Therapy: Shotgun Approach or Precise Multi-Target Therapeutics?”



Become a headache expert. Sign up for the 5-week Headache Boot Camp