What Is Ibuprofen? 9 Uses, Side Effects & Contraindications

Ibuprofen is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) that is is indicated relieve pain and rever. It is typically used to treat headaches, muscular pain, toothaches, migraines and menstrual cramps, as it works to reduce the production of inflammatory substances. It can also be used to reduce symptoms of cold and flu. 

This medication can be be found in oral (pill, capsule and chewable tablets) and intravenous forms. Oral forms are available at the pharmacy over-the-counter and with a prescription, while intravenous forms are only administered in a hospital setting. 

Ibuprofen can be used by adults or children over 6 months. It should only be used as directed by your doctor. 

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Common uses

Ibuprofen can help with the treatment of: 

1. Fever

Ibuprofen is indicated for fever as it reduces the formation of symptoms that stimulate increases in body temperature. 

Fever is one of the body’s defensive mechanisms against foreign invaders like viruses and bacteria. It is considered to be a sign of something wrong in the body. Fevers that do not improve with ibuprofen should be assessed by a doctor, so that the underlying cause can be identified and treated. 

Newborns or babies should be assessed by a doctor if you notice a fever, as their immune system is not fully developed and more specific treatment may be necessary. 

Read more about how to tell if you have a fever and what your normal body temperature should be.

2. Cold and flu

Ibuprofen can be used to treat symptoms of a cold or flu as it contains anti-inflammatory action and reduces pain and fever. 

A flu is an infection caused by the influenza virus and it typically presents with symptoms like chills, feeling cold, body aches, fatigue, headaches and fever in the first few days. 

A common cold typically does not cause a fever, but some patients may notice a slightly higher temperature, as well as symptoms like sore throat and nasal congestion. These tend to resolve within 4 to 10 days of the initial onset.

Check out home remedies for a cold and flu that you can additionally add to your medical treatment.

3. Sore throat

Ibuprofen can be used to treat a sore throat, otherwise known as tonsillitis or pharyngitis. These are generally caused by a viral infection from the common cold. In these cases, the doctor may observe swelling in the tonsils or pharynx, in addition to redness, swelling, pain and difficulty swallowing. 

If you also notice coughing, high-grade fever or fatigue with your sore throat, you should consult your doctor to assess the probability of a bacterial infection, which will require antibiotics for treatment. 

Learn more about how to get rid of a sore throat with home remedies and medications.

4. Menstrual cramps

Menstrual cramps can be quite uncomfortable and can last for 1 to 3 days during menstruation. In these cases, ibuprofen can be used to relieve pain associated with contraction of the uterine muscles and inflammation from inflammatory substances like cyclooxygenase. 

It is important to see a gynecologist regularly, at least once per year, for evaluation, monitoring and screening. Many health conditions associated with severe menstrual cramps may require more targeted treatment. See the natural remedies for period cramps that you can use to complement your doctor’s prescribed treatment. 

5. Toothaches

Toothaches can be described in many ways - some patients may report a sensitivity to hot or cold foods, while others may feel discomfort when consuming sweet foods or drinks, chewing or brushing their teeth. Toothaches are generally caused by poor oral hygiene, which leads to cavities and gingivitis. 

In these cases, ibuprofen can help to manage inflammation and pain, and can be used until you are able to see a dentist. You can also try some toothache home remedies in addition to using ibuprofen.

Moderate to severe post-operative pain from dental surgery can also be treated with ibuprofen. 

6. Tension headaches

Tension headaches can be caused by insomnia or stress and tends to cause discomfort around the eyes. Some patients describe this headache as a belt wrapped around the forehead. 

Ibuprofen contains anti-inflammatory action that can relieve pain caused by inflamed head and neck muscles, which become rigid and cause more pain.

Learn more about the types of headaches that can occur and what causes them.

7. Muscular pain

Ibuprofen is often indicated for muscular pain because it fights the substances that cause muscle inflammation.

Muscle aches, also known as myalgia, can occur due to excessive training caused by overloading the pressure, as well as depression, viral infections or poor posture. 

Muscular pain that does not improve with ibuprofen should be assessed by a doctor so that the underlying cause is diagnosed and treated with a more specific approach. 

8. Spinal or sciatic nerve pain 

Ibuprofen can be used to relieve upper back pain as well as lower back or sciatic nerve pain. It improves pain and swelling that can stay in a specific spot, or radiate to other areas of the body, like the arms, neck or legs. 

Back pain or sciatica should be assessed by a doctor to determine whether the pain is related to bone, disc, muscle or ligament abnormalities. Sciatica stretches can also help to relieve pain at home.

9. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis

Ibuprofen can be used with other analgesics to relieve pain, swelling and redness in joints associated with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis can also trigger a mild fever, and ibuprofen can also address this symptom.

Patients with these conditions should be followed by a doctor and physiotherapist so treat and improve joint flexibility and overall strength.

Possible side effects

The most common side effects of ibuprofen include nausea, vomiting, increased gas, dizziness, stomach ache, and skin lesions (like blisters or rash).

Although they are more rare, less common side effects include indigestion, constipation, loss of appetite, diarrhea, sodium and water retention, headache, irritability, and ringing ears.

Contraindications for use

Ibuprofen should not be used by pregnant women nor by anyone with an allergy to any of the components in the formula. You should avoid taking ibuprofen if you have an allergy to other NSAIDs or to other medications for pain and fever.

This medication should not be taken for more than 10 days when treating pain, or for more than 3 days when treating a fever, unless prescribed by a doctor. You should not take more than the recommended dose.

Ibuprofen should not be used in cases in which NSAIDs have triggered asthma, runny nose, hives, nasal polyps, angioedema, bronchospasms or other symptoms of an allergic reaction. It should not be taken with alcohol, and should be avoided by people with active gastroduodenol ulcers or gastrointestinal bleeding.

Ibuprofen for use by children under 2 years of age or by older adults should be monitored and prescribed by a doctor.