Uses and Side Effects of Ibuprofen

Ibuprofen is one of the most widely-used analgesics in the world. It's available over-the-counter in most countries and has a very high safety profile, with few adverse reactions.
Uses and Side Effects of Ibuprofen
Diego Pereira

Written and verified by el médico Diego Pereira.

Last update: 11 August, 2023

Ibuprofen is one of the most consumed drugs in the world, mainly for its analgesic capacity. It belongs to the group of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and is used for some chronic diseases. In fact, it’s usually sold without a prescription and there are few cases of adverse reactions.

If you have any questions about the general characteristics of this medication, we have prepared the following article for you. You’ll find useful data on indications, contraindications, and information on its consumption. Keep reading!

What is ibuprofen?

Ibuprofen is a commonly used drug derived from propionic acid. It’s synthetic, so it isn’t found in nature. It was developed by the Spaniard Antonio Blancafort in the 1960s in the Boots Group laboratories.

Since then it has become one of the most widely used pain medications. In fact, it has an indication for some forms of rheumatoid arthritis, for example.

It’s part of the group of NSAIDs. This group also includes acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin), piroxicam, ketoprofen, and diclofenac, among many others. They’re responsible for inhibiting enzymes within the cyclooxygenase (COX) pathway. Under normal conditions, without their intervention, COX produces a set of inflammatory substances that produce pain.

Analgesic properties

Pain relief is the most common use for this medication. It’s common to find bottles and packets filled with many ibuprofen pills in pharmacies and it’s an over-the-counter medicine (no prescription needed).

It’s used for pain of mild to moderate intensity. In severe cases, it isn’t usually effective, in addition to the fact that you can get adverse effects if high amounts of the drug are consumed. Patients with cancer or chronic pain often require medication with more potent activity, such as opioids.

Measurement of fever.
The use of ibuprofen as an antipyretic is recommended in pediatrics and in adults.

Antipyretic properties

This refers to the ability of a medicine to reduce fever. Although it’s usually part of a complex molecular process that’s characterized by the abundance of pro-inflammatory substances, it’s recommended for reducing fever in many cases.

With respect to the rest of the NSAIDs, ibuprofen usually shows a fairly similar profile of effectiveness when compared. A 2004 study compared it to acetaminophen in a group of children, showing better (mild) effectiveness in its favor.

Anti-inflammatory properties

Some diseases, especially chronic ones, are characterized by inflammatory elements in the body. An example of this are rheumatological pathologies, including arthritis.

It’s common to see that doctors prescribe steroid drugs (such as prednisone) to slow the progression of the disease. In addition, some NSAIDs such as ibuprofen have shown good results in relieving general symptoms.

Medical indications

Beyond the symptomatic relief of non-specific pathologies, this drug is useful as a fixed treatment for certain diseases, such as the following:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis: This is a chronic condition that can appear at any time in life. It’s characterized by severe pain in the joints. In advanced cases and without treatment it’s common to see deformations in the extremities.
  • Ankylosing spondylitis: This affects the joints of the spine, producing a forward deviation. The inflammation is so significant that it usually affects other organs, such as the digestive and eye systems.
  • Osteoarthritis: This is characterized by the progressive degeneration of the joints, being a condition linked to advanced age. It includes limitations for some movements and frequent pain that sometimes requires surgery.
  • Primary dysmenorrhea: This refers to the pain that’s typical of menstruation. Although ibuprofen isn’t used to contain the bleeding, it can reduce pain.

Ibuprofen side effects

Like any medicine, the use of ibuprofen can have adverse reactions, such as the following:

  • Gastrointestinal: This is something common to most oral drugs, which can occur with vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. In addition, in patients with peptic ulcers, it could worsen symptoms.
  • Renal: The appearance of acute lesions in the form of interstitial nephritis is possible, despite not being so common.
  • Hematologic:  decreased red blood cells is a rare but likely effect.
  • Hypersensitivity or allergies: Symptoms include redness of the skin (erythema), swelling (edema), shortness of breath (dyspnea), and profuse sweating (diaphoresis).

Drug interactions

Interactions are a set of chemical reactions that can lead to changes in the effect of a drug. This may include its complete absence or increased chances of toxicity. Ibuprofen interacts with these drugs:

  • Diuretics: These drugs promote the production and emission of urine, which is very useful for treating high blood pressure. They can interact with ibuprofen and favor the appearance of kidney lesions.
  • NSAIDs: The combination of two different types of NSAIDs increases toxicity and adverse reactions.
  • Corticosteroids: The combination with prednisone or hydrocortisone may favor the appearance of digestive bleeding.
  • Methotrexate: This is used to treat some types of cancer and rheumatoid arthritis. Therefore, patients with the latter condition should be under medical surveillance. The interaction decreases the elimination of methotrexate, so it spends more time circulating in the blood.
  • Antihypertensives: The combination usually reduces the hypotensive effect, so these drugs could reduce their effectiveness. They’re usually combined with diuretics, which, as we mentioned before, also interact with ibuprofen.
Use of NSAIDs for pain in women with osteoarthritis.
Patients with chronic pain should watch the dose they consume and the drugs they combine in order to prevent adverse reactions.

Contraindications of ibuprofen

There are some medical conditions that you shouldn’t take this drug with, or at least take it under medical supervision:

  • Known hypersensitivity (allergy): Small doses can trigger severe allergic conditions.
  • Active bleeding: This can worsen the severity of bleeding of gastrointestinal origin. These originate from the perforation of peptic ulcers and large tumors.
  • Severe heart failure: According to the research, the use of high doses of ibuprofen should be avoided in patients with high cardiovascular risk. This could be related to the risk of thrombosis.

Precautionary considerations

Caution should be exercised when consuming ibuprofen during pregnancy. This is especially the case in the last three months of pregnancy, as it could have harmful effects on the fetus. In addition, there’s evidence that seems to show that its use in the first trimester reduces germ cells, at least in animal models.

Patients with chronic illnesses or severe pain should be careful not to overdose. The general recommendations are as follows:

  • In adults, don’t exceed 2400 milligrams daily
  • In children, don’t exceed 1600 mg daily

Apart from this, this pharmacological option is widely used and is a useful first approach in cases of mild pain or fever that has just started. That’s why it has gained so much popularity, and in most countries it can be sold freely.

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