Ibuprofen is used to treat pain and inflammation. Find out how to take it safely and possible side effects.
Note: the information on this page is about ibuprofen for adults. For information about use for children, see ibuprofen for children.
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Ibuprofen is also contained in some other combination medications such as:
- Nurofen Plus®
- Brufen extra®
- Nurofen Cold and Flu®
What is ibuprofen?
Ibuprofen is in a group of medicines known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
It is used to treat different types of pain such as headache, migraine, dental pain, back pain or muscle pain, and pain from injury – read more about pain.
It also helps to ease redness and swelling, and to treat fever.
Different brands and strengths
Ibuprofen is available in different brands and strengths. The lower strength (200 mg) tablets can be bought from a supermarket or over-the-counter from a pharmacy. The higher strength tablets (400 mg, 600 mg, 800 mg) tablets are only available on prescription from your doctor.
- The dose of ibuprofen will be different for different people depending on your condition.
- Usually, you may need to take ibuprofen for a short time only, while you have pain or swelling.
- The usual dose for adults is 200 mg to 400 mg 3 or 4 times daily if needed.
- Do not take more than 1200 mg per day without checking with your doctor.
- Use the lowest dose that works for you and stop as soon as you can.
- The dose will be different to this if you have been prescribed a tablet which releases ibuprofen slowly; this is called a modified-released tablet.
- Always follow the directions on the package or pharmacy label. If you are unsure about how much to take, check with your pharmacist.
How to take ibuprofen
- Timing: Take ibuprofen with food or immediately after food, to prevent stomach upset. Take ibuprofen with a full glass of water. Swallow the tablets whole. Do not crush or chew them.
- Limit or avoid alcohol while you are taking ibuprofen. Alcohol can increase the risk of side effects like stomach upset.
- Missed dose: If you forget to take a dose, take it when you next need pain relief and then continue as before. Do not take two doses together to make up for a missed dose.
Take care with ibuprofen
For most people taking ibuprofen is safe. However, extra care is needed if you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, stomach ulcers or kidney problems or if you smoke. It can also be harmful if you take it when you are dehydrated or have been sick with nausea or vomiting. Discuss with your doctor whether taking ibuprofen is suitable for you.
NSAIDs (except low-dose aspirin) increase the chance of a heart attack or stroke, which can lead to death. These serious side effects can occur even in the first weeks of using an NSAID and the risk may increase the longer you are taking them. The risk appears greater at higher doses (such as ibuprofen 2400 mg per day) so use the lowest effective amount for the shortest possible time. Some other medicines contain NSAIDs, including those used for colds, flu, so always read the labels and avoid taking multiple medicines that contain NSAIDs. Also see Ibuprofen patient information guide SafeRx, Waitematā DHB, 2013.
Precautions – before taking ibuprofen
- Do you have high blood pressure or problems with your heart?
- Do you have any problems with the way your kidneys or liver works?
- Have you had stomach ulcers?
- Are you pregnant, planning a pregnancy or breast-feeding?
- Do you have any breathing problems?
If so, it’s important that you tell your doctor before you start taking ibuprofen. Sometimes a medicine isn’t suitable for a person with certain conditions or taking other medicines, or it can only be used with extra care.
Possible side effects
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Ibuprofen interacts with some medicines, especially those used for high blood pressure, so check with your doctor or pharmacist before you start taking it.
Do not take other NSAIDs such as diclofenac or naproxen or COX-2s such as celecoxib while taking ibuprofen. This can increase your risk of side effects.
Taking NSAIDs together with medicines called ACE inhibitors or ARBs and diuretics (water pills) can be harmful to your kidneys. This is called the ‘triple whammy’. If you are taking ACE inhibitors or ARBs and diuretics, tell your doctor or pharmacist before starting ibuprofen.
- Examples of ACE inhibitors are captopril, cilazapril, enalapril, lisinopril, perindopril and quinapril.
- Examples of ARBs are valsartan, candesartan and losartan.
- Examples of diuretics are furosemide, bumetanide, bendroflumethiazide, chlortalidone, indapamide and metolazone.
Read more: The triple whammy SafeRx
The following links provide further information about ibuprofen. Be aware that websites from other countries may have information that differs from New Zealand recommendations.