Over the counter medications are popular globally, with individuals resorting to self-medication for symptomatic treatment of various conditions. Conditions that are generally treated this way include fever and pain. One of the earliest non-aspirin non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications that have received approval for use as OTC include ibuprofen. This NSAID is regarded as one with good tolerance, and has delivered effective relief from pain without triggering health complications that are considered as serious or major. However, there are side effects of ibuprofen in certain circumstances and it is essential to be fully aware of the implications of possible adverse effects.

Why is ibuprofen popular?

Various reasons make ibuprofen popular among users and this includes its analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. It is also relatively safe when compared with other categories of medications typically recommended for treating pain and fever. Steroid and opioids are also known to deliver impressive outcomes in pain relief, but bring the risk of addiction or possible undesirable outcomes. Ibuprofen has a unique action; wherein lower doses deliver analgesic properties and higher doses deliver anti-inflammatory properties. The conditions managed through ibuprofen include pain, inflammation, swelling and fever.

Who does the medication work?

The mechanism of action of ibuprofen is mainly the non-selective inhibition of the enzyme cyclooxygenase (COX). By inhibiting this enzyme, the medication helps in regulating the actions of pain and fever mediators – prostaglandins and thromboxane. The control of these mediators help in bringing down inflammation, fever and pain. The enzyme is classified as COX-1 and COX-2, and many medications act on either of the enzymes. However, ibuprofen works on both enzymes, which gives it the name non-selective inhibitor.

The body has a natural response mechanism to certain conditions and this includes release of enzymes which in turn result in the mediation of prostaglandins and thromboxane. By controlling the release of the enzymes, the mediators are regulated and this helps to control fever, pain and inflammation. Most medications that deliver symptomatic relief are combined with other medications that are intended to treat the underlying conditions that trigger pain and fever.

What can be treated with this NSAID?

Fever pain and inflammation are broad categories of the outcomes of the medication. Specific conditions within these categories include dental pain, and pain that is experienced with common cold and headache. Ibuprofen is also used as medication by women to manage menstrual pain more effectively. Sprains also cause pain and the NSAID can be used for relief from sprains. Arthritis and back pain are commonly experienced symptoms of the elderly, and ibuprofen is one among the preferred medications for offering relief from the symptoms.


What forms of ibuprofen are available in the market?

Ibuprofen is available in various forms including topical applications such as gel and spray, and oral forms such as tablets and syrup. Topical applications are known to have a faster action at the site of application, while oral forms generally take around twenty minutes to start acting. The NSAID is also an ingredient in multiple medications, typically prescribed for treating flu and common cold.

What are the side effects of ibuprofen that are likely to be experienced?

Before we look at the adverse outcomes of the NSAID, it is necessary to bear in mind that all medications come with the possibility of side effects. This could either be mild in nature, or the effects could be strong and persistent warranting discontinuation and suitable remedial measures. Typically, mild effects may be frequently experienced and may not require medical intervention. The stronger effects may not occur frequently or may be experienced by only a small section of users. There are users who may not experience any kind of undesirable outcomes whatsoever. The manifestation of effects all depend on various factors including health of user and the use of prescription/OTC medications or supplements.

When is the onset of undesirable outcomes high?

The period that needs to be monitored carefully among users who are prescribed long term use, is the initial period of commencing the medication. Patients who are prescribed the NSAID for a short duration may not experience side effects, or may experience mild effects that do not require treatment. Patients who are prescribed higher dosages are also at relatively higher risk of experiencing side effects, than patients on lower dosages. One of the conditions that could be experienced is the possibility  of heart attack or stroke. Patients with already existing risk levels of cardiovascular events and stroke are advised to exercise increased caution when on the medication.

Under what circumstances should NSAIDs be stopped?

While moderate or mild effects are likely to be experienced without any need for alarm, there are certain effects that make it necessary to stop the medication. For instance, patients on Ibuprofen who experience some kind of fainting sensation are to discontinue the medication. Other reasons that make discontinuation necessary are observance of traces of blood either in vomit or in stools. Patients who experience pain for a lengthy period, without any signs of relief are also to stop the NSAID.

The medication is intended to control fever, and when fever does not reduce, even after continuing the NSAID for around four days, it is necessary to look at other medications. The best option is to seek medial advice to determine the underlying condition and choose alternative medications to control fever. Whenever topical applications of Ibuprofen causes irritation on the skin or discoloration, it is indication that the NSAID is triggering side effects, and needs to be stopped.

What effects are frequently experienced?

Nausea rates as one of the most common or frequent side effects. This can sometimes be accompanied by vomiting sensations. Pain is also another sensation that may be experienced, but may not actually require intervention in most instances. Diarrhea is another frequently reported outcome, and patients may experience some kind of bloated feeling in the stomach. Dyspepsia, a condition with symptomatic pain in the upper abdomen and indigestion is another condition that could manifest as a side effect of ibuprofen. Edema is a possible side effect; this condition causes fluid retention in limb extremities and other tissues in the body.

Patients have reportedly experienced dizziness when on the medication. Headache that is throbbing in nature, and abnormal nervousness are other possible  outcomes. Certain symptoms manifest visibly and this can serve as an early indicator of undesirable effects – outbreak of mild rashes. Though rashes may be mild in nature, it is essential to treat it to prevent the condition from worsening. Tinnitus is another possible symptom or undesirable effect that could be experienced. This condition refers to an intermittent or constant ringing sensation in the ears, Tinnitus is typically a temporary side effect and may subside naturally without any specific treatment.

How can side effects of ibuprofen be mitigated?

While the possibility of adverse or unwanted outcomes cannot be entirely ruled out, it is possible to reduce the severity or aggravated conditions, both direct and indirect. As the mediation is known to cause dizziness or fainting, individuals in specific professions are advised to stay away from duties till completion of treatment. Driving or the ability to stay alert with sharp reflexes while operating hazardous machinery may be affected.

Individuals with a history of allergies to NSAIDs or any past experience of allergies due to Ibuprofen are advised to consult a specialist. It is best to look at alternative medications that do not trigger allergies. The tendency to dismiss mild allergies as trivial is wrong, as allergies have the power to aggravate into a serious condition. Other precautions include the need to choose different medications in place of NSAIDs prior to undergoing heart surgeries. Patients who have undergone heart surgeries are also advised to choose different medications as this could trigger undesirable outcomes.

Who should not take Ibuprofen?

NSAIDs are not safe for all users, with some categories of patients advised to pick a different medication. Abdominal pain, heartburn, stomach ulcers, and internal bleeding are all conditions that make the medication unsuitable for use. Patients with any of these conditions are to stay away from Ibuprofen or medications that work in a similar manner. Patients with hypertension or a history of cardiovascular events are to take alternative medications. Other conditions include renal ailments, shingles, chicken pox, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease and liver ailments. Individuals on diuretics, other NSAIDs,  anticoagulants are advised to stay away from the medication. This is because the mechanism of action of the medications are likely to cause interactions. Similarly, combining Ibuprofen with other NSAIDs is likely to increase the amount of NSAIDs in the body, which may in turn result in possible adverse effects.

What needs to be done in the event of symptoms?

Urgent medical attention is necessary when certain symptoms are experienced or witnessed. Pain or uneasiness in the chest, difficulty in breathing, and slurred speech are all indications of adverse effects that need immediate medical attention. Weakness in one side of the body is also a symptom that indicates possible serious effects, and the best response is triage at a healthcare facility followed by checks to check for possible cardiovascular conditions.

What are the possible allergic reactions?

Allergic reactions include possible swelling on the face, wheezing, and difficulty in breathing. There are serious allergic effects that need treatment – such as anaphylactic shock. This is regarded as a serious allergic reaction and it is necessary to seek medical attention at the earliest. This is considered as an emergency and requires multi-disciplinary treatment to prevent it from turning deadly.


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