Ibuprofen: uses, side effects, and interactions

Yael Cooperman, MD - Contributor Avatar

Reviewed by Yael Cooperman, MD, Ro, 

Written by Danielle Oaks 

Yael Cooperman, MD - Contributor Avatar

Reviewed by Yael Cooperman, MD, Ro, 

Written by Danielle Oaks 

last updated: Sep 21, 2021

3 min read

Some people swear by ibuprofen for headaches and other pains. Ibuprofen can do wonders for injuries and sore muscles.

While it has relatively few side effects, there are some risks to be aware of. Let’s take a closer look at what ibuprofen treats and how to use it. 


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What is ibuprofen?

Ibuprofen is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, or NSAID for short. It’s available over-the-counter (OTC) in generic forms and under brand names like Advil and Motrin.

Ibuprofen is commonly used for pain relief, inflammation, and as a fever reducer. Other NSAIDs you may have heard of that treat pain and inflammation are naproxen and aspirin. These aren’t the same as ibuprofen but are in a similar class of medication (Ngo, 2021). 

What is ibuprofen used for?

Ibuprofen is a popular OTC painkiller or analgesic. People tend to use ibuprofen to treat things like muscle aches, sprains, joint aches, and post-operative pain. 

It works by blocking an enzyme needed to make special compounds called prostaglandins. These compounds are responsible for pain perception, inducing fever, and controlling blood clots. By reducing the number of prostaglandins our bodies make, ibuprofen can reduce things like fever, inflammation, and moderate pain (Ngo, 2021).

There is a long list of symptoms and conditions ibuprofen can help with, but here are some of the main ones (FDA, 2018; Ngo, 2021):

  • Headaches and migraines

  • Pain from a sore throat or common cold 

  • Menstrual cramps 

  • Toothache

  • Back pain 

  • Osteoarthritis

  • Rheumatoid arthritis

Despite earlier concerns that ibuprofen might worsen COVID-19 infections, recent research has found ibuprofen safe to use for COVID symptoms (Abu, 2021).

What is the dosage for ibuprofen?

Ibuprofen comes in capsules, tablets, liquids, and as a topical gel for pain relief. Tablets or capsules have strengths ranging from 200–800 mg for adults, with 200 mg being the most common (Ershad, 2021). 

The typical dosage for over-the-counter use is 1–2 tablets every 4 to 6 hours as needed. It’s also available in chewable tablets and as a liquid, which is especially convenient for children who might prefer a flavored option. 

Higher dosages are available by prescription, as in the case of treating pain following surgery. Regardless of the dose, it’s recommended you take ibuprofen with food or milk to avoid stomach upset. Ibuprofen starts working roughly 30–60 minutes after taking it (Ershad, 2021). 

Side effects of ibuprofen

Ibuprofen is linked to relatively few side effects. The most common ones are gastrointestinal, as ibuprofen is responsible for reducing protective digestive mucus and bumping up stomach acid production. 

Common side effects include (Queremel, 2021):

  • Nausea

  • Diarrhea

  • Indigestion

  • Stomach pain

  • Constipation

  • Headaches

  • Dizziness

Topical ibuprofen may cause a rash in some people, particularly if their skin is sensitive or gets easily irritated. 

Other warnings and risks 

Because of the way ibuprofen affects the gastrointestinal tract, there are some risks associated with taking it. 

Keep an eye out for the signs of stomach bleeding. If you feel faint, vomit blood, have bloody or black stools, or experience abdominal pain that doesn’t go away, stop taking it and seek medical attention (Ngo, 2021). 

Some people are at risk of an allergic reaction when taking ibuprofen, especially if you’ve had a reaction to a fever reducer or pain reliever before. Signs of an allergic reaction to ibuprofen include a rash, hives, facial swelling, wheezing, and shock (FDA, 2018).

NSAIDs in general are also linked to an increased risk of heart problems, including heart attack, heart failure, and stroke. Ibuprofen can also affect how your kidneys work (Solomon, 2020; Ngo, 2021).

Get medical advice from a healthcare professional before taking ibuprofen if you meet any of the following criteria (Amundsen, 2015; FDA, 2018):

  • You’re pregnant

  • You’re over age 60

  • Have stomach problems, including heartburn

  • Have kidney problems or liver issues

  • Experience high blood pressure

  • Live with heart disease

  • You take blood thinners like coumadin (brand name Warfarin)

  • You take diuretics (also called water pills) 

  • You’re taking other NSAIDs (like aspirin, naproxen, or diclofenac)

Taking ibuprofen while breastfeeding is considered safe (LactMed, 2021; Davanzo 2014). In general, you should not take more than 1,200 mg of ibuprofen within 24 hours (Ngo, 2021; FDA, 2018).


If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

How we reviewed this article

Every article on Health Guide goes through rigorous fact-checking by our team of medical reviewers. Our reviewers are trained medical professionals who ensure each article contains the most up-to-date information, and that medical details have been correctly interpreted by the writer.

Current version

September 21, 2021

Written by

Danielle Oaks

Fact checked by

Yael Cooperman, MD

About the medical reviewer

Yael Cooperman is a physician and works as a Senior Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.