Painkillers, ibuprofen
Painkillers, ibuprofen

Ibuprofen is a painkiller, which is available over-the-counter, without a prescription.

It is one of a group of painkillers called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and can be used to:

Types of ibuprofen

You can buy most types of ibuprofen from supermarkets or pharmacies. Some types are only available on prescription. Ibuprofen is  available in many forms, including:

  • tablets
  • capsules
  • gels and creams
  • sprays
  • liquids

In some products, ibuprofen is combined with other ingredients. For example, it is sometimes combined with a decongestant (a medicine for a blocked nose) and sold as a cold and flu remedy.

How to take ibuprofen

Make sure you take ibuprofen as directed on the label or leaflet, or as instructed by a health professional.

How much you can take depends on your age, the type of paracetamol you're taking and how strong it is. For example:

  • adults – can usually take one or two 200mg tablets every four to six hours, but shouldn't take more than 1,200mg (six 200mg) tablets in the space of 24 hours
  • children under 16 – may need to take a lower dose, depending on their age; check the packet or leaflet, or ask a pharmacist or doctor for advice

The painkilling effect of ibuprofen begins soon after a dose is taken, but the anti-inflammatory effect can sometimes take up to three weeks to get the best results.

Ibuprofen should not be used to treat conditions that are mainly related to inflammation.

Don't take more than the recommended dose if it isn't relieving your symptoms.

Adults can take paracetamol at the same time if necessary, but this isn't recommended for children. Contact your GP or call NHS 0845 46 47 if your symptoms get worse or last more than three days despite taking ibuprofen.

Ibuprofen can cause side effects, such as nausea and vomiting. Learn more about the possible side effects of ibuprofen.

Who can take ibuprofen

Ibuprofen should be avoided by people with certain health conditions, such as a current or recent stomach ulcer, or a history of bad reactions to NSAIDs.

It should be used with caution by older people, and people with certain health conditions including asthma or kidney or liver problems.

Ibuprofen and pregnancy

Ideally, pregnant women should not take ibuprofen unless recommended by a doctor.

But ibuprofen appears in breast milk in small amounts, so it’s unlikely to cause any harm to your baby while you’re breastfeeding.

It’s best to tell your GP, pharmacist or health visitor about any medicines you’re taking.

Paracetamol is recommended as an alternative to ease short-term pain or reduce a high temperature.

Ibuprofen can also interact with a range of other medicines. It is important to check that it's safe to take ibuprofen alongside these medications by asking your doctor, pharmacist or checking the patient information leaflet. Learn more in interactions of ibuprofen.

Ibuprofen and children

Ibuprofen may be given to children who are three months of age or over and weigh at least 5kg (11lbs) to relieve:

  • pain
  • inflammation
  • fever

In certain cases, your GP or another healthcare professional may recommend ibuprofen for younger children. For example ibuprofen to control a fever following a vaccination if paracetamol is unsuitable.

If your baby or child has a high temperature that does not get better or they continue to experience pain, speak to your GP or call NHS Direct Wales on 0845 4647.

Overdoses of ibuprofen

Taking too much ibuprofen, known as an overdose, can be very dangerous.

If you've taken more than the recommended maximum dose, go to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department as soon as possible.

It can be helpful to take any remaining medicine and the box or leaflet with you to A&E if you can.

Some people feel sick, vomit, have abdominal pain or ringing in their ears (tinnitus) after taking too much ibuprofen, but often there are no symptoms at first. Go to A&E even if you're feeling well.

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Who can take ibuprofen

Some people should avoid using ibuprofen. Others should use it with caution. If you have any queries about using ibuprofen, or any other medicines, speak to your GP or pharmacist, or call NHS Direct Wales on 0845 4647.

Do not take ibuprofen if you:

  • have a history of hypersensitivity (a strong, unpleasant reaction) to aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • have a current or recent stomach ulcer or you have had one in the past
  • have severe heart failure
  • have severe liver disease
  • are taking low-dose aspirin for the prevention of cardiovascular disease

Using it with caution

Use ibuprofen with caution if you are 65 or over, or if you are breastfeeding (see above).

You should also use ibuprofen with caution if you have:

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Side effects

Ibuprofen can cause a number of side effects. You should take the lowest possible dose of ibuprofen for the shortest possible time needed to control your symptoms.

See the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine for a full list of side effects.

Common side effects of ibuprofen include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting 
  • diarrhoea
  • constipation
  • indigestion (dyspepsia)
  • abdominal (tummy) pain

Less common side effects include:

  • headache
  • dizziness
  • fluid retention (bloating)
  • raised blood pressure
  • gastritis (inflammation of the stomach)
  • a stomach ulcer
  • allergic reactions, such as a rash
  • worsening of asthma symptoms by causing bronchospasm (narrowing of airways)
  • kidney failure
  • black stools and blood in your vomit – this can indicate bleeding in your stomach

If you feel unwell after taking ibuprofen or have concerns seek advice from your GP or pharmacist, or call NHS Direct Wales on 0845 46 47.

High doses

Taking high doses of ibuprofen over long periods of time, can increase your risk of:

  • stroke, when the blood supply to the brain is disturbed
  • heart attacks, when the blood supply to the heart is blocked

In women, long-term use of ibuprofen can sometimes be associated with reduced fertility. This is usually reversible when you stop taking ibuprofen.

Reporting side effects

The Yellow Card Scheme allows you to report suspected side effects from any type of medicine you are taking.

It is run by a medicines safety watchdog called the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

See the Yellow Card Scheme website for more information.

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Interactions other medicines

Ibuprofen can react unpredictably with certain other medicines. This can affect how well either medicine works and increase the risk of side effects.

Check the leaflet that comes with your medicine to see if it can be taken with ibuprofen. Ask your GP or local pharmacist if you're not sure.

As ibuprofen is a type of NSAID, you shouldn't take more than one of these at a time or you'll have an increased risk of side effects.

NSAIDs can also interact with many other medicines, including:

Read more about medicines that interact with NSAIDs.

Ibuprofen can also interact with ginkgo biloba, a controversial dietary supplement some people claim can treat memory problems and dementia.

Food and alcohol

There are no known interactions between ibuprofen and food. Taking ibuprofen with or after food will help reduce any irritation to the stomach.

There are also no known interactions with ibuprofen and moderate alcohol intake.

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The information on this page has been adapted by NHS Wales from original content supplied by NHS Choices.
Last Updated: 23/01/2017 11:18:12