Painkillers, ibuprofen 

Introduction 

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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

Ibuprofen is made by many different companies, under many different brand names and in a wide range of forms, including:

  • tablets or caplets
  • gels
  • 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 – for example, Sudafed.

How it works

Ibuprofen works as a painkiller by affecting chemicals in the body called prostaglandins.

Prostaglandins are substances released in response to illness or injury. They cause pain and swelling (inflammation). Prostaglandins that are released in your brain can cause a high temperature (fever).

The painkilling effect of ibuprofen begins soon after a dose is taken, but the anti-inflammatory effect is weak and will take longer to begin. It can sometimes take up to three weeks to get the best results, and ibuprofen should not be used to treat conditions that are mainly related to inflammation.

Ibuprofen can cause side effects such as nausea and vomiting. Read more information about possible side effects of ibuprofen.

Uses of 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.

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.

Read more information about special considerations for ibuprofen.

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.

Read more information about interactions of ibuprofen.

Ibuprofen and children

Ibuprofen may be given to children who are aged three months 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, babies who are aged two to three months can take ibuprofen to control a fever following a vaccination, if paracetamol is unsuitable. This will be a single dose that can be repeated once after six hours, if necessary.

Ibuprofen may also be given to children with rheumatic conditions, such as juvenile idiopathic arthritis.

An injection of ibuprofen can be given to premature babies (born before week 37 of the pregnancy) to treat patent ductus arteriosus (when a blood vessel in the heart does not close normally after birth).

When ibuprofen is given to babies or children, the correct dose may depend on:

  • the child’s age
  • the child’s weight
  • the strength of the ibuprofen, which is usually in mg (milligrams)

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 111.

Page last reviewed: 08/07/2014

Next review due: 08/07/2016

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