What is Ibuprofen? A Closer Look at its Uses, Benefits, and Potential Risks

A box of ibuprofen liquid capsules
  • Ibuprofen is a common medication that provides relief from pain, inflammation, and fever. It can be used to treat mild to moderate causes of pain, including joint and muscle stiffness, swelling, and menstrual cramps.

  • Ibuprofen works by reducing the production of certain chemicals in the body that promotes pain and inflammation.

  • Although ibuprofen is typically safe for most people, you should still use it with caution and alert your doctor to any adverse reactions you experience.

Ibuprofen is a popular over-the-counter (OTC) painkiller that can be used to treat different types of pain and discomfort.

Understanding what ibuprofen is and how it works is important for ensuring the medication is used safely and effectively.

What Kind of Drug is Ibuprofen?

Ibuprofen is a painkiller that forms part of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). It belongs to a class of medications that relieve pain and inflammation.

You do not need a prescription to purchase ibuprofen.

How does ibuprofen work?

Ibuprofen works by reducing the production of prostaglandins — a chemical that causes pain, inflammation, and fever.

Fewer prostaglandins in the body eases pain and reduces inflammation

Key Point: Is Tylenol the Same as Ibuprofen?

While both Tylenol and ibuprofen are common OTC pain relievers, they have different active ingredients that work in distinct ways.

Tylenol inhibits the production of certain chemicals that cause pain and fever. It has no anti-inflammatory properties.

Ibuprofen reduces inflammation in addition to providing pain relief, making it more versatile than Tylenol.

What is Ibuprofen Used For?

Ibuprofen is used to treat mild to moderate pain and relieve minor aches, inflammation, swelling, joint pain, and stiffness.

You can also use ibuprofen to alleviate the discomfort associated with menstrual pain, toothache, minor muscle tension, and fever.

With medical supervision, ibuprofen can also be used to provide pain relief from conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.

A woman holds a glass of water and takes a pill.
Key Point: How Long Does Ibuprofen Take to Work?

The time it takes for ibuprofen to work varies, depending on several factors. Usually, it will take about 30 minutes to an hour before you’ll start to feel the effect of ibuprofen.

If you’re taking ibuprofen to reduce inflammation, it may take several days of consistent use before you notice a significant improvement.

It’s important to note that you should take ibuprofen as soon as you experience pain – don’t wait to see if your discomfort will alleviate on its own. If you wait too long, your pain may worsen to the point that the medication won’t be effective anymore.

If you have persistent or severe pain that doesn’t improve when taking ibuprofen, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss alternative treatment.

What is the Appropriate Ibuprofen Dosage?

The appropriate ibuprofen dosage will depend on the condition you want to treat. It’s essential to follow the recommended dosage instructions as indicated on the packaging or provided by your doctor.

The following general guidelines typically apply when taking ibuprofen, but always make sure to double check before ingesting the medication:

  • Adults and adolescents (12 years and older): For pain and fever relief, take 200-400 mg every four to six hours as needed. Do not exceed 1200 mg in 24 hours. To treat anti-inflammatory conditions, take 400-800 mg every four to six hours and do not exceed 3200 mg per day.

  • Children (6 months and older): The dosage for children is usually based on their weight and age. Your healthcare provider will give you guidance on how to administer this drug to children.

Ibuprofen doesn’t follow the same strict dosing schedule like other medications. If you’ve forgotten to take your ibuprofen, do not double your intake to make up for the missed dose.

This medication is available in the following forms:

  • Chewable tablets
  • Oral tablets
  • Suspensions
  • Liquid-filled capsules
  • Intravenous ibuprofen for specific conditions only

If you’re unsure about the dosage or form of ibuprofen you need to take, consult your healthcare provider for professional advice.

Key Point: What is the Best Way to Store Ibuprofen?

To ensure the effectiveness of ibuprofen, it’s important to store it properly. The recommended storage instructions include:

  • Avoid temperature extremes to preserve the stability of the medication
  • Keep the medication in its original packaging
  • Ensure that the medication is stored in a childproof container
  • Store in a cool, dry place like a cupboard or drawer

Does Ibuprofen Cause Any Side Effects?

It is possible for ibuprofen to cause mild to moderate side effects, though not everybody experiences them. These can include:

  • Gastrointestinal issues like indigestion and stomach pain
  • Headache
  • Drowsiness
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Visual disturbances
  • Irritated stomach lining
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Increased blood pressure and fluid retention
  • Kidney damage if the medication is taken in high dosages
  • Liver damage

Mild side effects tend to resolve on their own and usually aren’t cause for concern. In rare cases, you may also experience severe side effects that may include:

  • Asthma and wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling in the face that may cause breathing or swallowing difficulties
  • Dark vomit
  • Black stools

If you experience any severe side effects, seek professional medical attention right away to prevent health complications.

A person holds a box of ibuprofen and a glass of water.
Key Point: Are There Alternatives for Ibuprofen?

There are a number of OTC pain relievers available that are similar to ibuprofen. These include:

  • Tylenol
  • Naproxen
  • Aspirin

You can also try topical treatments — like creams, gels, or patches — that contain ingredients like lidocaine or capsaicin.

These ingredients have been designed to provide localized pain relief when applied to the affected area.

Who Should Avoid Taking Ibuprofen?

Ibuprofen is generally considered safe for most people when used as directed.

However, there are certain individuals who should avoid taking ibuprofen without the guidance of their doctor.

This includes people with:

  • A history of allergic reactions
  • A history of gastrointestinal issues like IBS
  • Kidney or liver disease
  • Cardiovascular disease

Before taking ibuprofen, you should also inform your doctor or pharmacist of any allergies you have.

Ibuprofen may contain inactive ingredients that can cause adverse reactions and other health complications like stomach ulcers or gastrointestinal bleeding.

Key Point: Can You Take Ibuprofen While Pregnant?

It’s advised to avoid using ibuprofen while you are pregnant because of the potential adverse effects NSAIDs can have on developing fetuses.

If absolutely necessary, a limited dosage of ibuprofen may be used only during the first and second trimesters under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

Prolonged or high-dose use of ibuprofen is discouraged and it’s recommended that you speak to your doctor about alternative medication options.

How Long Does Ibuprofen’s Effects Last?

Depending on factors like the condition you’re treating and the medicine formulation, the effects of ibuprofen can last anywhere from four to six hours.

For moderate pain, ibuprofen may last longer than six hours but this will vary depending on the severity of your discomfort.

A pile of prescription medications in orange pill bottles.

Which Drugs Interact with Ibuprofen?

Ibuprofen can react unpredictably with other medications which can affect how well either drug works. These interactions also increase the risk of severe adverse reactions like gastrointestinal bleeding.

Since ibuprofen is an NSAID, you should avoid taking another similar medication at the same time. NSAIDs also interact with:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
  • Beta-blockers
  • Diuretics
  • Anticoagulants and antiplatelet drugs
  • Corticosteroids
  • Methotrexate
  • Lithium
  • Certain herbal supplements

It’s important to read the package insert before combining ibuprofen with any other medications. This helps you to avoid any increased risk of severe side effects.

If you’re unsure if ibuprofen negatively interacts with the medication you’re currently taking, speak to your healthcare provider for professional guidance.

What Happens if You Take Ibuprofen Every Day?

Ibuprofen can be taken for prolonged periods of time, but it’s important to only do so under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

Taking ibuprofen on a daily basis may increase the risk of addiction and other complications. These include:

  • Gastrointestinal issues: Prolonged use of ibuprofen can irritate the lining of the stomach and increase the risk of indigestion, ulcers, and bleeding.

  • Kidney and liver damage: Ibuprofen can put strain on the liver and kidneys which can cause irreversible damage, increasing your risk of developing serious diseases.

  • Cardiovascular risk: Prolonged use of high-dose ibuprofen can increase the risk of cardiovascular events like heart disease and stroke.

The risk of taking ibuprofen every day may vary, depending on the individual’s overall health and any existing medical conditions.

It’s advisable to speak to your doctor before you start using ibuprofen for a prolonged period of time so that they can monitor and ensure your safety.

If you have persistent pain that requires daily medication, it may also be necessary to speak to your doctor about alternative treatment methods to provide long-term relief.

Can Ibuprofen Expire?

Like any medication, ibuprofen will expire after a certain time period. The expiration date is usually printed on the packaging.

Expired ibuprofen should not be used as it may be harmful and less effective. This is because the chemical composition of medication degrades over time, changing its potency and stability.

Taking expired ibuprofen may therefore increase the risk of experiencing severe adverse reactions. To ensure that ibuprofen is safe and effective, check the expiration date before using it. If the medication has expired, throw it out and purchase a new pack.

When Should You Seek Medical Attention While Using Ibuprofen?

When ibuprofen is used as directed, it’s generally considered safe for most people. However, you should seek emergency medical attention if you experience any of the following:

  • Severe allergic reactions, such as difficulty breathing or swallowing and swelling of the face or throat
  • Symptoms of gastrointestinal issues, including severe stomach pain, vomiting blood, and black stools
  • Unusual bruising or bleeding
  • Symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, slurred speech, or weakness in one side of the body

Prompt medical attention in these situations is essential for preventing further health complications and fatalities.

Where Can I Learn More About Ibuprofen and Other Medications?

If you’re wondering if ibuprofen is the right medication for your condition, LifeMD is here to help.

A licensed doctor or nurse practitioner can assist you with information about ibuprofen and provide dosage instructions — all from the comfort of your own home.

Make an appointment and start your journey to a healthier life today.

Shanta Williams, APRN

Shanta is a board-certified, multi-state NP who has worked in healthcare for over 14 years. She earned her M.S. in Family Nurse Practitioning. In 2020, she was one of the first Nurse Practitioners to assist with the COVID-19 outbreak in New York.

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This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency.

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