How Does Ibuprofen Work? - MedicineHow

How Does Ibuprofen Work?

How Does Ibuprofen Work

Ibuprofen is a type of drug called a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). It works by stopping the production of compounds called prostaglandins in the body, which have a number of effects, including to cause inflammation.

As a result, ibuprofen can help to reduce pain and inflammation by stopping the production of prostaglandins. This is why it is usually used to relieve painful inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis.

Ibuprofen is also commonly used to relieve pain and reduce fever in children, as an alternative to paracetamol.

Brand Names and Doses

Ibuprofen is the generic name of the drug, which is the name of the active component that has an effect on your body. You may also know it better by a brand name, which is the name given to the medication made by each pharmaceutical company so that they can market it.

Brand names of ibuprofen for oral tablets or capsules include:

  • Advil tablets (200mg) or Advil Liquid capsules (200mg)

  • Brufen tablets (400mg)

  • Bugesic tablets (200mg)

  • Tri-Profen tablets (200mg)

  • Nurofen tablets (200mg) or Nurofen Liquid capsules (200mg)

  • Nurofen Double Strength tablets or capsules (400mg)

  • Rafen tablets (200mg)

  • Panafen tablets (200mg)

Ibuprofen is also available as a liquid product, which is useful for people who have difficulty swallowing tablets or capsules, such as the elderly or young children. The brand names of liquid ibuprofen include:

  • Bugesic oral liquid (20mg/mL)

  • iProfen for Children (20mg/mL)

  • Nurofen for Children (20mg/mL)

  • Nurofen for Infants (40mg/mL)

Nurofen Gel is the brand name of ibuprofen in a gel, which can be applied directly to the skin of the affected area. This is helpful because it has a targeted effect where it is needed and is less likely to cause side effects to other areas of the body.

What type of drug is it?

Ibuprofen is a type of drug known as a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), which is a group of drugs that all work in a similar way. Other examples of NSAIDs include:

Ibuprofen is a nonselective NSAID, which means that it blocks both COX-1 and COX-2 to stop the production of more types of prostaglandins than some other NSAIDs. This means that it is more likely to cause side effects due to the action of the other prostaglandins that is reduced.

It also has a relatively short half-life, which means that your body clears it quite quickly after you take a dose. This is a good thing for quick pain relief, but you will need to take regular doses (3-4 per day) to maintain good pain relief.

What is Ibuprofen used for?

Ibuprofen can be used to help relieve symptoms of pain and inflammation caused by a variety of health conditions. Your doctor may recommend it for:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis

  • Osteoarthritis

  • Period pain

  • Post-surgery pain

  • Muscular injury pain

  • Fever

Unlike many other NSAIDs, Ibuprofen has an antipyretic effect, which means it can help to reduce fever. This is also why it is often given to children who are in pain and have fever.

Nurofen Gel is also useful pain and inflammation in soft tissues in your body because the gel can be applied exactly where it is needed. For example, if you have sprained your ankle, you can apply the gel to the inflamed area so that the pain relief and anti-inflammatory effect is targeted towards that area.

How does it work?

Ibuprofen works by inhibiting COX-1 and COX-2, which are needed to produce prostaglandins in your body. There many different types of prostaglandins, with some in almost every tissue of your body. They each have different effects, such as to cause:

  • the tissues in your body to become inflamed

  • your blood vessels to relax and widen

  • the platelets in your blood to come together to form a clot

Ibuprofen has a general effect on almost all the prostaglandins because it blocks both COX-1 and COX-2 from producing prostaglandins in your body. This means that it can reduce all of the usual effects prostaglandins. We want it to reduce inflammation because that is why we are using it, but it can also cause hypertension and affect the way the blood forms clots.

Side Effects

There are many different side effects that you may experience if you take ibuprofen. These do not affect everyone, but it’s important to know what they are so that you can recognize them if you do notice them.

The side effects of Ibuprofen may include:

  • Nausea

  • Heartburn (dyspepsia)

  • Diarrhea

  • Headache

  • Dizziness

  • Gastrointestinal ulcers

  • Gastrointestinal bleeding

  • Hypertension

This is not a complete list of side effects, but just some of the most common. Please see the ibuprofen information leaflet for more detailed information.

For localized muscular pain, many of these side effects can be reduced if you use the gel instead of the oral tablet. This is because the effect occurs mainly in the affected area, instead of the rest of the body.

Drug Interactions

Ibuprofen can interact with many other medications when they are used in together, including:

  • ACE Inhibitors

  • Aldosterone antagonists

  • Alendronate

  • Amiloride

  • Aspirin

  • Beta blockers

  • Brimonidine

  • Calcineurin inhibitors

  • Corticosteroids

  • Cyclosporin

  • Fluconazole

  • Lithium

  • Loop diuretics

  • Methotrexate

  • Phenindione

  • Potassium

  • Prostaglandin analogues

  • Rifampicin

  • Sartans

  • Tacrolimus

  • Thiazide diuretics

  • Thiazolidinediones

  • Triamterene

  • Warfarin

These medications can often be used together, but your doctor should be aware that you are taking both medications so that they can adjust the dose as needed to ensure they are safe and effective.


There are some people who may need to avoid using Ibuprofen, or use it with caution, because they may be at risk of side effects due to the medication.

Peptic ulcers or GI bleeding:

Coagulation disorders:

Cardiovascular disease:


Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD):

Renal Impairment

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Ibuprofen is not usually recommended for women who are pregnant or trying to conceive. This is because it can interfere with fertility and the development of the fetus.

For women planning to become pregnant, it can prevent or delay ovulation, so that the woman is less likely to conceive. Additionally, using ibuprofen during pregnancy, particularly at the time of conception, is linked to a higher risk of miscarriage. It may also cause other problems later on in the pregnancy and should be avoided.

For women who are breastfeeding, ibuprofen is considered safe to use.

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How Does Ibuprofen Work?
About the author


Yolanda is a passionate medical writer who loves to help people understand how health and different treatments work. After graduating in Pharmacy in Australia, she moved to Italy to study the Mediterranean way of life and continue learning about health and medicine.

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