What Does Ibuprofen Do to Your Body?

Feb 07, 2024

What Does Ibuprofen Do to Your Body?

Millions rely on Ibuprofen, a widely used over-the-counter medication for pain, inflammation, and fever relief. As a popular and effective remedy, it's important to understand how this drug works and affects the body. This comprehensive article will explore the science behind Ibuprofen, its positive effects, potential side effects and risks, and how to use it responsibly.

What is Ibuprofen?

Ibuprofen belongs to a class of medications known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These drugs reduce inflammation and pain in the body without using steroids. Other common NSAIDs include aspirin, naproxen, and celecoxib. Ibuprofen was first developed in the 1960s by the
British pharmacologist Dr. Stewart Adams and has since become a household name for its efficacy in treating various ailments.

What are the Common uses and conditions treated by Ibuprofen

Ibuprofen is used to relieve pain and inflammation caused by various conditions, MedLine Plus has highlighted some uses, such as:

  1. Headaches and migraines: It can effectively alleviate the pain and discomfort associated with tension headaches and migraines, helping to improve the quality of life for those who experience these conditions.
  2. Dental pain: Following dental procedures or due to toothache, can provide relief from pain and reduce inflammation in the affected area.
  3. Menstrual cramps: It is often used to decrease the mild to moderate pain and discomfort associated with menstrual cramps, making it a popular choice for many women.
  4. Muscle aches and strains: Athletes and individuals who experience muscle soreness or strains can benefit from Ibuprofen's ability to reduce inflammation and relieve pain.
  5. Arthritis and joint pain: People suffering from arthritis, including osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, can experience relief from pain and inflammation.
  6. Back pain: It can effectively treat acute and chronic back pain by reducing inflammation and relieving pain.
  7. Fever: When experiencing a fever can help lower body temperature and alleviate the associated discomfort.

What are Ibuprofen Available forms and recommended dosages?

Ibuprofen is available in various forms; according to National Institutes of Health, it includes tablets, capsules, liquid suspensions, and topical gels. The recommended dosage varies depending on the patient's age, weight, and the specific condition being treated.

  1. Ibuprofen Tablet and capsule: The typical dosage ranges from 200 to 400 mg for adults every 4 to 6 hours, with a maximum daily limit of 1200 mg for over-the-counter use. Children's dosages are typically determined based on their weight.
  2. Liquid suspensions: Liquid forms of Ibuprofen are available for children and adults who have difficulty swallowing tablets or capsules. The dosages are often measured in milligrams per milliliter (mg/mL) and should be administered using a measuring device provided with the medication.
  3. Topical gels: Topical ibuprofen gels are applied directly to the skin over the affected area, allowing for localized pain relief and reduced inflammation. The dosage and application frequency will vary depending on the specific product and the treated condition.

How does Ibuprofen work?

Inhibition of cyclooxygenase (COX) enzymes

Ibuprofen works by inhibiting the activity of enzymes called cyclooxygenases (COX-1 and COX-2). These enzymes produce prostaglandins, hormone-like substances crucial in inflammation, pain, and fever. By blocking the COX enzymes, Ibuprofen interferes with the prostaglandin synthesis pathway, reducing the production of these inflammatory mediators.

Reduction of prostaglandins production

Prostagladins do helpful things, such as forming or removing blood clots. Ibuprofen reduces the production of prostaglandins in the body by inhibiting COX enzymes. Prostaglandins are involved in various physiological processes, including the regulation of inflammation, pain perception, and body temperature. With lower levels of prostaglandins, the body experiences a decrease in inflammation, pain, and fever.

Anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and antipyretic effects

Ibuprofen's ability to reduce inflammation (anti-inflammatory effect), relieve pain (analgesic effect), and lower fever (antipyretic effect) makes it a versatile and effective treatment for various conditions. This multifaceted action allows Ibuprofen to address the root cause of pain and inflammation, providing rapid and lasting relief for many individuals.

What are the Positive effects of Ibuprofen on the body?

Relief from pain and inflammation

Ibuprofen is highly effective in relieving pain and inflammation caused by various conditions. Its ability to target and reduce prostaglandin production directly addresses the root cause of pain and inflammation, providing rapid and lasting relief. This makes Ibuprofen popular for individuals seeking relief from painful and inflammatory conditions.

Reduction of fever

As an antipyretic, Ibuprofen effectively reduces fever by adjusting the body's thermostat in the hypothalamus. This helps normalize body temperature and alleviate the discomfort associated with fever, allowing individuals to feel more comfortable and aiding in recovery.

Comparisons with other pain relievers and NSAIDs

Due to its widespread use and effectiveness, Ibuprofen is often compared to other medicines and NSAIDs. While it is generally considered to have a lower risk of side effects than other NSAIDs like aspirin or naproxen, each drug's effectiveness and risk profile may vary depending on the individual and the specific treatment condition. It is important to talk to your doctor to determine the most appropriate medication.

  1. Aspirin: Aspirin is another popular NSAID with anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and antipyretic effects. However, aspirin is also a blood thinner, which can benefit certain conditions but may increase the risk of bleeding. It is not recommended for children due to the risk of Reye's syndrome, a rare but serious condition.
  2. Naproxen: Naproxen is another NSAID often used for pain relief and inflammation reduction. It has longer action duration than Ibuprofen, which may benefit individuals requiring longer-lasting relief. However, naproxen may have a higher risk of gastrointestinal and cardiovascular side effects than Ibuprofen.
  3. Acetaminophen (paracetamol): Acetaminophen is a non-NSAID pain reliever and fever reducer. While it effectively treats pain and fever, it does not have anti-inflammatory properties. This makes it less effective for conditions involving inflammation, such as arthritis. It is often used as an alternative for individuals who cannot tolerate NSAIDs or have contraindications for their use.

What are the Potential side effects and risks of ibuprofen use?

In his book “Ibuprofen: Pharmacology, Therapeutics and Side Effects”, K.D. Rainsford; Regular use of ibuprofen may eventually cause serious side effects. Check with your doctor right away if you have any of the following symptoms while taking this medicine: blistering, peeling, loosening of skin, chills, cough, diarrhea, fever, itching, joint or muscle pain, red skin lesions, sore throat, sores, ulcers, white spots in the mouth or on lips, or unusual tiredness or weakness and increase risk of a heart attack. Possible warning signs of some serious other side effects that can occur during treatment with this medicine may include:

Gastrointestinal issues

One of the most common side effects of ibuprofen use is gastrointestinal discomfort. This can include heartburn, indigestion, stomach pain, and ulcers. Long-term use or high doses of Ibuprofen can increase the risk of developing gastrointestinal issues. To minimize these risks, taking Ibuprofen with food or milk is recommended, and avoiding lying down for at least 10 minutes after taking the medication.

Cardiovascular Risks

Although relatively rare, NSAIDs like Ibuprofen have been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks and strokes. This risk is generally higher in individuals with pre-existing cardiovascular conditions or risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. It is important to discuss your personal risk factors with a healthcare professional before using Ibuprofen, especially if you have a history of heart disease or stroke.

Kidney and liver function concerns

Side Effects of Ibuprofen on the Liver

Like other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), the liver primarily metabolizes Ibuprofen. While most people can use Ibuprofen without any significant liver-related issues, some individuals may experience side effects or complications related to liver function. In rare cases, Ibuprofen can cause liver damage or other liver-related problems. The following are some of the side effects and complications that may occur:

Elevated liver enzymes

One of the more common side effects of Ibuprofen on the liver is the elevation of liver enzymes. These enzymes break down and metabolize various substances, including medications like Ibuprofen. Blood tests often detect elevated liver enzymes and can indicate liver inflammation or damage. In most cases, enzyme levels return to normal once the medication is discontinued or the dose is reduced.

Drug-induced hepatitis

In rare cases, ibuprofen use can lead to drug-induced hepatitis, a form of liver inflammation caused by an adverse reaction to the medication. Symptoms of drug-induced hepatitis can include fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, dark urine, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes). These symptoms may develop suddenly or gradually over time. If you experience any signs of drug-induced hepatitis while taking Ibuprofen, it is important to discontinue the medication and seek medical attention immediately.

Liver damage or failure

Although extremely rare, Ibuprofen has been associated with liver damage or failure in some individuals. This can occur when the liver cannot metabolize the drug effectively, leading to a buildup of toxic substances in the liver that can cause cell damage and inflammation. Liver damage or failure can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical intervention. Liver damage or failure symptoms can include severe fatigue, weakness, abdominal pain, leg or abdomen swelling, confusion, and jaundice.

Risk factors for liver-related side effects

Certain factors may increase the risk of experiencing liver-related side effects from ibuprofen use, such as:

Pre-existing liver conditions: Individuals with pre-existing liver conditions, such as hepatitis or cirrhosis, may be more susceptible to ibuprofen-related side effects.

High doses or prolonged use: Taking high doses of Ibuprofen or using the medication for extended periods can increase the risk of liver-related side effects.

Alcohol consumption: Regular alcohol consumption can increase the risk of liver damage from ibuprofen use, as both substances can cause inflammation and damage.

Drug interactions: Some medications can interact with Ibuprofen, potentially increasing the risk of liver-related side effects. These may include other NSAIDs, blood thinners, and certain antifungal medications.

Side Effects of Ibuprofen on Kidney Function

Ibuprofen can sometimes impact kidney function like other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). While most people can take Ibuprofen without experiencing kidney-related side effects, others may be more susceptible to kidney complications. Here are some of the possible side effects and complications related to kidney function:

Fluid retention and edema

One of the side effects of Ibuprofen on the kidneys is fluid retention, which can result in swelling (edema) in the extremities, such as the hands, feet, or legs. This occurs because NSAIDs like Ibuprofen can interfere with the kidney's ability to regulate the body's balance of salt and water. Fluid retention can concern individuals with pre-existing kidney disease, heart disease, or high blood pressure.

Acute kidney injury

In rare cases, Ibuprofen can cause acute kidney injury (AKI), a sudden and potentially severe decrease in kidney function. This can occur when the kidneys cannot filter waste products and maintain proper electrolyte balance. Symptoms of AKI can include decreased urine output, fatigue, nausea, and shortness of breath. AKI can be life-threatening if not addressed promptly and may require hospitalization for treatment. In some cases, kidney function can recover once the underlying cause is addressed, but in others, it may result in permanent kidney damage.

Worsening of pre-existing kidney disease

Individuals with pre-existing kidney disease are at a higher risk of experiencing kidney-related side effects from ibuprofen use. The medication can further impair kidney function and exacerbate existing kidney problems. Suppose you have a history of kidney disease. Discussing Ibuprofen with your healthcare provider to assess the potential risks and determine the most appropriate pain relief options is important.

Risk factors for kidney-related side effects

Several factors may increase the risk of experiencing kidney-related side effects from ibuprofen use, including:

  1. Pre-existing kidney conditions: Individuals with pre-existing kidney conditions are more susceptible to ibuprofen-related side effects.
  2. High doses or prolonged use: Taking high doses of Ibuprofen or using the medication for extended periods can increase the risk of kidney-related side effects.
  3. Age: Older individuals may be at a higher risk of developing kidney-related side effects from Ibuprofen, as kidney function naturally declines.
  4. Dehydration: Dehydration can increase the risk of kidney-related side effects from Ibuprofen, as the kidneys need adequate fluid to function properly.
  5. Concurrent use of other medications: Some medications, such as angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs), and diuretics, can interact with Ibuprofen and increase the risk of kidney-related side effects.

Allergic Reactions

Some people may experience allergic reactions to Ibuprofen, ranging from mild symptoms like rash or hives to severe reactions like difficulty breathing or anaphylaxis. If you experience any signs of an allergic reaction, discontinue use and seek medical attention immediately.

Interactions of Ibuprofen with other Medications

According to Journel of Internal Medicine Ibuprofen can interact with certain medications, such as aspirin, blood thinners, other NSAIDs, and some blood pressure medications, increasing the risk of side effects or reducing the effectiveness of the medications. It is important to consult with a healthcare professional before starting Ibuprofen if you are taking any other medications. 

  1. Blood thinners: Ibuprofen can increase the risk of bleeding when taken with blood-thinning medications like warfarin, as both can affect blood clotting mechanisms.
  2. Other NSAIDs: Combining with other NSAIDs can increase the risk of side effects, particularly gastrointestinal issues. It is generally not recommended to take multiple NSAIDs at the same time.
  3. Blood pressure medications: They can reduce the effectiveness of certain medications, such as ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers, and diuretics, potentially leading to uncontrolled blood pressure.
  4. Antidepressants: Some studies have suggested that taking Ibuprofen with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a class of antidepressants, can increase the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding. Consult a healthcare professional if you take an SSRI and require Ibuprofen for pain relief.

Precautions and responsible use of Ibuprofen

Consulting with a healthcare professional before the use

Before starting Ibuprofen, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional to discuss your specific needs, medical history, and potential risks. If you will be undergoing a coronary artery bypass graft (CABG; a type of heart surgery), you should not take ibuprofen right before or right after the surgery.

This will help ensure that Ibuprofen is the most appropriate medication for your situation and that you use it safely and effectively.

Follow recommended dosages and duration of use.

To minimize the risk of side effects and complications, following the recommended dosages and duration of use for Ibuprofen is crucial. Without consulting a healthcare professional, over-the-counter Ibuprofen should generally not be used for more than 10 days for pain relief or 3 days for fever reduction. If your symptoms persist or worsen despite using Ibuprofen, it is important to seek medical advice.

Monitoring for side effects and seeking immediate medical attention if needed

While using Ibuprofen, monitoring for any signs of side effects or complications is important. If you experience any concerning symptoms, such as severe stomach pain, chest pain, difficulty breathing, or signs of an allergic reaction, discontinue use and seek medical attention promptly. Early intervention can help prevent potential complications and ensure appropriate treatment is received.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women

Ibuprofen is generally not recommended during pregnancy, particularly in the third trimester, as it can cause complications for both the mother and the baby. If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, consult your healthcare professional for safe pain relief options. While Ibuprofen can pass into breast milk in small amounts, it is generally considered safe for breastfeeding. However, it is still important to discuss its use with your healthcare provider to ensure you and your baby's safety.

 Final Thoughts

Ibuprofen, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, widely used and effective medication for treating pain, inflammation, and fever, and relieve minor aches. If you are taking ibuprofen on a regular basis, take the missed dose as soon as you remember it. However, it is essential to be aware of Ibuprofen's potential risks and side effects and use the medication responsibly. To ensure Ibuprofen's safe and effective use, consulting with a healthcare professional, adhering to recommended dosages and durations, and monitoring for side effects are all important. By understanding how Ibuprofen works and taking the necessary precautions, individuals can benefit from the relief this medication provides while minimizing the risk of adverse effects.