How Long Does Ibuprofen Last and How Should I Use It?

Ibuprofen is one of the most commonly used painkillers today. It has a wide variety of clinical uses and is readily available over the counter in pharmacies and shops the world over, as well as in prescription form. Doctors prescribe it for a multitude of ailments, using it to treat fever, osteo- and rheumatoid arthritis, and even to help close holes in the hearts of premature babies. It sees day-to-day usage for relief from sports injuries, menstrual cramps, headaches, and inflammation.

However, despite its widespread use, ibuprofen has a number of side effects and should not be used by people with a range of medical conditions without checking with their doctor first. This leads to many people wondering exactly how it works and whether it is the right medication for them. One of the biggest questions is how long does ibuprofen last? This, and other important questions, will be answered below to help you make an informed decision about its use.

What Is Ibuprofen?

Ibuprofen is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) discovered in 1961 and first marketed in 1969 in the UK. Its discovery was the result of an effort to find a safer alternative to aspirin. The medication has since been recognized by the World Health Organization with an entry on their List of Essential Medicines, a guideline for the medications necessary for a country to have a fully functioning healthcare system.

It works by inhibiting the synthesis of two enzymes in the body, COX-1 and COX-2. These enzymes lead to the production of prostaglandins, compounds which can cause inflammation, pain, and fever. However, as with other NSAIDs, the inhibition of COX-1 can also lead to eventual gastro-intestinal issues, along with the other potential side effects of the drug.

Despite these possible issues, ibuprofen is the most widely used and safest available NSAID, and is especially valued for its fever-reducing and painkilling properties. It can be found in a number of forms, such as pills, capsules, gels, and sprays, and is often combined with other drugs as a part of cold and flu medicines.

How Long Does Ibuprofen Last?

The effects of a single dose of ibuprofen can be felt for up to four to six hours, depending on your metabolism, the size of the dosage, and the form it was taken in. The drug remains in your system for around 24 hours, though the effects will be greatly reduced after six hours, which is why it is usually taken in multiple doses over the course of a day.

How Quickly Does Ibuprofen Start to Work?

The answer to this question depends on what symptoms you are taking the medicine for and in what form you take it.

The most common methods of taking ibuprofen are as a pill, capsule, or syrup. You should start to feel the effects within 20-30 minutes of swallowing, with the medicine taking between one and two hours to reach its full effect. From this point, the effects will start to reduce, and after four to six hours they will be much weaker. If you are rubbing ibuprofen on your skin in the form of a cream, gel, or spray, it can take as long as one or two days for it to start working fully.

It takes much longer for its anti-inflammatory properties to fully kick in, usually up to two or three weeks. For this reason, and because of the risks associated with prolonged usage, it is generally not used to treat problems that are mainly caused by inflammation.

When Should I Take Ibuprofen?

Ibuprofen has a number of uses, mostly as a painkiller and for reducing fever. It is a good choice for relief from mild to moderate pain, such as for headaches, migraines, toothaches, and period pains. It also works well at reducing fever, for example if you are suffering from the flu or another illness.

It can be used to ease the pain and swelling caused by sprains and strains, most often as a result of sports injuries. However, doctors recommend waiting a day or two before taking ibuprofen in these cases as it might slow the healing process. Ibuprofen also works well to reduce discomfort and pain related to arthritis.

How Should I Take Ibuprofen?

The right dosage depends on your age and the severity of your symptoms. For both grown-ups and kids though, there are a few things to remember when taking ibuprofen.

It is best to take it with or after a meal or with a glass of milk. Otherwise, you are much more likely to have an upset stomach. If you are taking it for longer than a day, you should take it at the same time each day. You should take the lowest possible dose for as short a time as possible, and if the highest recommended dose isn’t alleviating your symptoms, you should definitely not have any more. Speak to your doctor instead.

Dosages for Adults

The usual recommended non-prescription dose for an adult is one or two times 200mg every four to six hours. Your doctor may recommend that you take a larger dose of up to 600mg if necessary, but otherwise, it is better for your long-term health to stick to those guidelines.

If you are in constant pain all day long, your doctor may also prescribe slow-release ibuprofen. In that case, you should take it either once a day in the evening, or twice a day with 10-12 hours in between the doses.

Dosages for Children

For children, the weight and age are important considerations as the recommendation can range from 50mg to up to 400mg. A useful rule of thumb is that you should give between 5-10mg for every kilogram (2.2lbs) that the child weighs. Children under the age of six months should not be given ibuprofen.

If in any doubt, refer to the instructions that come with the medicine or talk to your doctor.

Potential Side Effects

Ibuprofen, like all NSAIDs, has a range of possible negative effects. The most common include nausea, constipation or diarrhea, and indigestion. It can also occasionally cause headaches, dizziness, bloating, and a rash. More severe reactions may include raised blood pressure, a stomach ulcer, kidney failure, or black poos and/or bloody vomit (usually a sign of bleeding in your stomach). If you have a severe or lasting reaction, you should consult your doctor.

These are only some of a laundry-list of potential side effects, so if you start to feel unwell after taking the medicine, you should immediately talk to your doctor.

Interactions with Other Drugs and Food

Ibuprofen can be safely taken alongside paracetamol, but it is not recommended to take it with other NSAIDs such as aspirin or naproxen. It can also interact unpredictably with various medications, such as certain antidepressants, diuretics, beta-blockers, warfarin, lithium, and methotrexate. If you are already taking medication, it would be a good idea to check with your doctor to avoid any issues.

Luckily, there are no specific drinks or foods that you should avoid while taking ibuprofen. It can safely be taken alongside a moderate amount of alcohol, though excessive drinking can increase the likelihood of an irritated stomach.

Taking Ibuprofen with Pre-Existing Conditions

If you have ever had an allergic reaction, such as wheezing, a runny nose, or a rash after taking ibuprofen or other NSAIDs, you should avoid taking it again. You should also avoid it if you are pregnant, or trying to get pregnant, unless your doctor tells you otherwise.

If you have ever had any of the following conditions, you should check with your doctor first to ensure that taking ibuprofen is safe for you:

  • Stomach ulcers
  • Heart disease or failure
  • Liver problems
  • Kidney problems
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Shingles
  • Any illness that increases your chance of bleeding.

If you are over 65 years old, taking ibuprofen can also increase your chances of getting a stomach ulcer, so again, it is best to check first.

So, Is Ibuprofen Right for Me?

As one of the safest and most widely used painkillers, in most cases, ibuprofen can be a good choice to alleviate your symptoms. With only a short 20- to 30-minute wait for it to kick in, and up to four to six hours’ worth of effectiveness, it can help relieve painful headaches and toothaches, make periods more bearable, and get you to work despite a pounding hangover.

Keep in mind that there are a range of conditions that ibuprofen doesn’t go well with, as well as a number of medications to avoid combining it with. Still, with the instant relief ibuprofen provides, you should find yourself feeling better pretty quickly, at least for a few hours.