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Ibuprofen (Brufen, Nurofen)

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This page tells you about the painkilling drug ibuprofen and its possible side effects. There is information about

 

What ibuprofen is

Ibuprofen is a type of anti inflammation medicine. It is called a non steroidal anti inflammatory drug (NSAID). It has many brand names including Brufen and Nurofen. It is also a part of many other painkiller combination medicines. You’ll need to check the packet to see how much ibuprofen each tablet or capsule contains. Generally they are either 200mg or 400mg but there are also 600mg and 800mg tablets available.

NSAIDs are especially good at relieving bone and muscle pain. You may have them with stronger painkillers to give you the best pain relief. Ibuprofen controls pain by blocking messages to the brain that tell us we have pain. It also reduces swelling (inflammation) that presses on nerves. It can also bring a temperature down.

You can find detailed information about cancer and pain control in our section about coping physically with cancer.

Your doctor or nurse will give you instructions on when to take ibuprofen and how much to have. The dose will depend on the amount you need to control your pain. The usual dose for adults is 400mg every 4 to 6 hours. This means that you can take up to 1,600 to 2,400 mg a day, divided into 3 or 4 doses. You shouldn't take any more than 2,400 mg in 24 hours.

 

How you take ibuprofen

Ibuprofen is a tablet, capsule or caplet that you take with a glass of water. It is important to have it with milk or food. Taking it on an empty stomach can irritate the stomach lining and may cause bleeding. 

Your doctor can prescribe ibuprofen or you can buy it over the counter. If you have a history of stomach ulcers, asthma, or heart, kidney or liver problems check with your doctor before you take it.

 

Common side effects

More than 10 in every 100 people have one or more of these. Side effects from ibuprofen are often mild.

  • Heartburn or indigestion – you can prevent this by drinking milk or eating a snack with each dose of ibuprofen
  • Stomach ache – tell your doctor or nurse if you have this
 

Occasional side effects

Between 1 and 10 in every 100 people have one or more of these.

  • Blood in your stools – stop taking ibuprofen and tell your doctor or nurse as soon as possible
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headaches
  • Feeling or being sick
  • Women may find that while taking ibuprofen their ability to become pregnant is lowered
 

Rare side effects

Fewer than 1 in 100 people have these.

  • A stomach ulcer – if you have black and tarry stools or vomit blood, stop taking ibuprofen and tell your doctor or nurse immediately
  • Swelling of your ankles and legs due to fluid build up – let your doctor or nurse know if you have this
  • Mood changes including anxiety, depression and mood swings
  • Tiredness and drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • An allergic reaction – causing a skin rash, swelling of the tongue and lips and difficulty in breathing
  • Kidney changes that are unlikely to cause symptoms – the kidneys usually go back to normal when you stop taking ibuprofen, but your doctor or nurse can check how well your kidneys are working with regular blood tests
  • An itchy skin rash or worsening of existing skin conditions
  • Raised blood pressure
  • Blurred vision
  • A stiff neck, high temperature and feeling disorientated
  • Liver changes that are unlikely to cause symptoms – the liver usually goes back to normal when you stop taking ibuprofen and you will have regular blood tests to check your liver. Let your doctor or nurse know straight away if you have yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes or pain in the upper part of your abdomen
  • Diarrhoea, constipation, wind, or worsening of bowel conditions such as colitis or Crohn's disease
 

Important points to remember

The side effects above may be mild or more severe. A side effect may get better or worse through your course of treatment, or more side effects may develop as the course goes on. This depends on

  • How many times you've had the drug before
  • Your general health
  • The amount of the drug you have (the dose)
  • Other drugs you are having

Talk to your doctor, pharmacist or nurse about all your side effects so they can help you manage them. They can give you advice or reassure you. Your nurse will give you a contact number to ring if you have any questions or problems. If in doubt, call them. 

Tell your doctor about any other medicines you are taking, including other painkillers, vitamins, herbal supplements and over the counter remedies – some drugs can react together.

Do not take ibuprofen if you are in the last 3 months of pregnancy. Talk to your doctor before taking ibuprofen if you are in the first 6 months of pregnancy.

Do not breastfeed while taking ibuprofen as the drug may come through in the breast milk.

Taking large amounts of ibuprofen for a long time can increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke. Talk to your doctor or nurse if you are worried about this and they will be able to advise you.

 

More information about ibuprofen

This page does not list all the very rare side effects of this treatment that are very unlikely to affect you. For further information look at the Electronic Medicines Compendium website at www.medicines.org.uk.

If you have a side effect not mentioned here that you think may be due to this treatment you can report it to the Medicines Health and Regulatory Authority (MHRA) at www.mhra.gov.uk.

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Updated: 11 July 2013