Ibuprofen (Brufen, Nurofen) | Cancer Research UK
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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. 

Ibuprofen is especially good at relieving bone and muscle pain. You may have it with stronger painkillers to give you the best pain relief. It can also bring a temperature down.


How ibuprofen works

Ibuprofen controls pain by blocking messages to the brain that tell us we have pain. It also reduces swelling (inflammation) that presses on nerves.


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 or nurse can prescribe ibuprofen for you 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 or nurse before you start taking it. 

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.

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 600mg and 800mg tablets are also available.


Tests while taking ibuprofen

Your doctor or nurse may ask you to have blood tests before starting to take ibuprofen and while you are taking it. The tests check your levels of blood cells and other substances in the blood. They also check how well your liver and kidneys are working.


About side effects

We've listed the side effects associated with ibuprofen. You can use the links to find out more about each side effect. Where there is no link, please go to our information about cancer drug side effects or use the search box at the top of the page.

You may have a few side effects. They tend to be mild.  The side effects depend on

  • How long you take this medicine
  • Your general health
  • The dose of the drug

The side effects may be different if you are having ibuprofen with other medicines.

Tell your doctor or nurse straight away if any of the side effects get severe.


Common side effects

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

  • Heartburn or indigestion – you can reduce 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 poo (stools) – stop taking ibuprofen if you have this 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
  • An itchy skin rash or worsening of existing skin conditions


Rare side effects

Fewer than 1 in 100 people have these effects.

  • A stomach ulcer – if you have black and tarry stools or vomit blood, stop taking ibuprofen and tell your doctor or nurse straight away
  • 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 – don't drive or operate machinery if you have this
  • Dizziness
  • An allergic reaction, causing a skin rash, swelling of the tongue and lips and difficulty in breathing. If you have this stop taking ibuprofen and tell your doctor or nurse straight away
  • Kidney changes that are unlikely to cause symptoms – the kidneys usually go back to normal when you stop taking ibuprofen
  • High blood pressure
  • Blurred vision – don't drive or operate machinery if you have this
  • 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. 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 tummy (abdomen)
  • Diarrhoea, constipation, wind, or worsening of bowel conditions such as colitis or Crohn's disease
  • An increased risk of a heart attack or stroke if taking high doses of ibuprofen for a long time – talk to your doctor or nurse if you are worried about this


Important points to remember

Talk to your doctor, pharmacist or nurse about any 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.

Other medicines

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


This drug may harm a baby developing in the womb. 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.


Some ibuprofen products contain a type of sugar called sorbitol. If you have an intolerance to some sugars, ask your doctor if ibuprofen is safe for you to take.


Related information

On this website you can read about controlling cancer pain.


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: 6 July 2015