Painkillers, ibuprofen 

Introduction 

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Media last reviewed: 29/04/2013

Next review due: 29/04/2015

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Ibuprofen is a medicine that is used to:

Ibuprofen belongs to a group of medicines called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

In England, products containing ibuprofen are available to buy without prescription from a GP.

Ibuprofen is made by many different pharmaceutical manufacturers, and is sold under many different brand names. Ibuprofen products come in a wide range of forms, including tablets or caplets, gels, sprays, and liquids.

In some products, ibuprofen is combined with other ingredients. For example, it is sometimes combined with a decongestant (a type of medicine that provides short-term relief for a blocked nose) and sold as a cold and flu remedy.

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 inflammation (swelling). 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 will take longer to begin. It can sometimes take up to three weeks to get the best results.

Ibuprofen can cause side effects, including nausea and vomiting. Learn more in side effects of ibuprofen.

Uses of ibuprofen

Ibuprofen should be avoided by people with certain health conditions, including a peptic ulcer.

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

Pregnant women should not take ibuprofen. They can take paracetamol to ease short-term pain or reduce a high temperature.

Learn more in special considerations for ibuprofen.

If you are taking other medicines, you should check that it is safe to take ibuprofen alongside those medicines. 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

Sometimes, your GP or another healthcare professional may recommend ibuprofen for younger children. For example, babies who are two to three months of age 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 Direct on 0845 4647.

Page last reviewed: 03/07/2012

Next review due: 03/07/2014

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