Ibuprofen is a popular nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, or NSAID. The drug can be purchased over-the-counter (OTC) and is commonly used to treat fevers and pain. Doctors often prescribe ibuprofen for general pain and inflammation. Ibuprofen is sold under many brand names, including Advil and Motrin.
While ibuprofen is generally safe to use, some side effects have been associated with the drug. You should not take more than the recommended dosage of ibuprofen, as overdoses can result in organ failure and death.
Uses of Ibuprofen
Ibuprofen can be used to treat a number of ailments, and is safe to use for many people, including children. For OTC ibuprofen, the label will have clear directions about the proper dosage based on age. Always follow the directions on the label to prevent an accidental overdose or other negative side effects.
As an NSAID, ibuprofen primarily helps to reduce swelling, but it also provides relief from pain. Ibuprofen can be used to relieve:
- Arthritis symptoms
- Menstrual cramps
- Cold and flu symptoms
- Muscle aches
- Back pain
While ibuprofen is available as an OTC drug, it may also be prescribed to treat certain conditions, such as arthritis. The drug also acts as a blood thinner, so if you have issues with clotting, your doctor may recommend that you avoid this medication. Use of ibuprofen may be contraindicated if you are taking blood thinning medications like Xarelto, Warfarin or Pradaxa.
Brand name ibuprofen products
The maximum daily prescription dose of ibuprofen is 3,200 milligrams (mg), but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends taking no more than 1,200mg per day.
How Ibuprofen Works
Ibuprofen can come in many forms; you can find it as a pill, a chewable tablet, liquid, or drops. It’s best to eat a light snack or have a glass of milk before taking ibuprofen, so you don’t upset your stomach.
The drug blocks the body’s ability to cause inflammation by stopping the production of prostaglandins, compounds that cause swelling. It does this by inhibiting COX-1 and COX-2, the enzymes that create prostaglandins.
Ibuprofen works relatively quickly but only lasts for a few hours, so it’s recommended that you take the drug at the first sign of pain for it to have the most effect. If you experience extended pain, you may need to take three to four doses of up to 400mg per day, at intervals of four to six hours.
In addition to helping swelling, Ibuprofen also serves as an antipyretic, meaning it reduces fever. This is different from most NSAIDs, which have no effect on fever.
Side Effects of Ibuprofen
There are some potential side effects associated with ibuprofen use. Most of these are not severe and will go away, although you should contact your doctor if they persist.
The most common side effects of ibuprofen include:
In extreme cases, ibuprofen can cause serious, lasting health problems. These include liver or kidney damage, vision problems, bleeding and ulcers in the stomach, and a higher risk of heart attack or stroke.
If you experience any of the following serious side effects, stop taking ibuprofen and contact your doctor immediately:
Serious side effects of the drug are rare, but are often the result of extended or heavy use. Never exceed the recommended dosage of ibuprofen.
If you are pregnant, it’s best to avoid taking ibuprofen, especially during the third trimester. Ibuprofen and other NSAIDs have been linked to birth defects in children. If pain relief is needed during pregnancy, it is safer to take acetaminophen. Talk with your doctor about using ibuprofen or other drugs while pregnant.
Each year, around 76,000 people are hospitalized in the U.S. for NSAID overdoses, and 7,600 die. It’s important to seek medical attention immediately if you suspect you or someone you love is experiencing an overdose. Signs of an overdose include dizziness, difficulty breathing, seizures, stomach pain, and nausea.
Ibuprofen overdoses can often be treated depending on the amount of ibuprofen consumed. Once at the hospital, a medical team will assess the situation and decide on the right course of action. Electrocardiograms (EKGs), blood tests, x-rays, and other tests may be used to establish the severity of the patient’s condition. Treatments can include airway support, activated charcoal, and the use of an IV.
Many ibuprofen overdoses are not accidental. Intentional ibuprofen overdoses rarely result in death but can lead to serious health problems. If you are having suicidal thoughts, or suspect that someone you love may be contemplating suicide, contact a suicide prevention helpline immediately.
While ibuprofen is a common household drug, there have been some incidences of extreme side effects. These have resulted in a number of lawsuits.
One of the biggest and most recent ibuprofen lawsuits occurred in 2013, when a girl nearly died and was left legally blind from an extremely rare side effect called Stevens-Johnson syndrome (SJS). The family was awarded $63 million after a jury found that Johnson & Johnson did not properly warn about the risks of Motrin.
The FDA does not require ibuprofen manufacturers to warn against SJS. If you or your family has been affected by SJS or other serious side effects from taking ibuprofen, contact a lawyer to discuss what’s right for you.