Taking ibuprofen on empty stomach

Can you take ibuprofen on an empty stomach?

Many people stock pain relievers in their medicine cabinets for headaches or strained muscles. Among the most common pain relievers is the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) which include the over-the-counter drug ibuprofen. 

Whether you have a nagging headache, menstrual cramps, or sore legs from yesterday’s football match you reach for ibuprofen. Taking the recommended dose with water makes you feel better. 

But the concern that you may have is whether you can take ibuprofen on an empty stomach? Let’s find out.

What is ibuprofen

Ibuprofen is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). It works by reducing hormones that cause inflammation and pain in the body by blocking the production of cyclooxygenase (COX)-1 and COX-2. The body releases these substances in response to illness and injury (source).

Ibuprofen is used to reduce fever and treat pain or inflammation caused by many conditions such as headache, toothache, back pain, arthritis, menstrual cramps, or minor injury.

Ibuprofen is used in adults and children who are at least 6 months old.

Can ibuprofen be taken on an empty stomach

It’s best to take ibuprofen with a meal so it does not upset your stomach. The rationale for taking ibuprofen with food is clearly to reduce or prevent adverse events. On the other hand, you can take ibuprofen on an empty stomach if you want a rapid onset of action. 

Ibuprofen at OTC does have low possibilities of showing serious GI events and little prospect of developing cardiovascular events. If you are taking ibuprofen for temporary pain relief and have no risk factors, you may be able to take on an empty stomach. 

Per Kim D Rainsford et al, for rapid onset action of ibuprofen it is important to take ibuprofen on a fasting stomach. But for a long onset of action, the best is to take ibuprofen with food or milk.

As always, your pharmacist or doctor knows what is best for you based on your medical history, contact them before you start taking them.

What happens if you take ibuprofen without food

Taking ibuprofen without food or on an empty stomach may not have any bad effects on you except if you have some clinical conditions that predispose you to the gastrointestinal side effects of NSAIDs.

Also, if you keep taking ibuprofen without food for long times then the risk for developing some gastrointestinal side effects like NSAID-induced peptic ulcers increases exponentially. 

Using animal models, it was found that taking NSAIDs like ibuprofen on an empty stomach affects the pharmacokinetics of the drug. It is likely to delay the absorption of the drug while it increases the gastrointestinal side effects of the drug (source).

Does ibuprofen cause stomach ulcers?

Ibuprofen can cause stomach ulcers especially when you take it for a long time and at high doses.

Speak to your doctor or pharmacist if you experience such events to be prescribed a medicine that helps protect your stomach.

This side effect of ibuprofen even though not very common is possible because as an NSAID it works by inhibiting the synthesis of the gastrointestinal protective prostaglandins.

How can I protect my stomach from ibuprofen?

In order to prevent the gastrointestinal side effects of ibuprofen or protect your stomach from ibuprofen, you have to ensure that you take the dose according to the regimen given to you by your doctor or Pharmacist.

You can also take ibuprofen with food or after food to help minimize the side effects of ibuprofen.

There are some medications that your doctor may prescribe for you to protect your stomach from ulceration. Some of these medications include the proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) like omeprazole and H-2 antagonists such as ranitidine.

When do I feel better after taking ibuprofen

You may start feeling better 20 to 30 minutes after taking ibuprofen for pain management. To achieve this faster onset of action in a case of acute pain, one will need to take ibuprofen on empty food. 

This is the preferred choice for OTC ibuprofen, which is used to achieve a short onset of action in headaches and back pain. But for long-term pain management, you’ll need to take ibuprofen for about 3 weeks for you to see the effect of it.

Can I take ibuprofen for a long time

If you still need ibuprofen after taking it for 10 days or for 3 days if you are younger than 18 years old), then you should consult your doctor or pharmacist before continuing.

It is safe to take ibuprofen regularly for many years if you don’t take above the recommended dose as advised by your doctor or pharmacist.

If you want to ibuprofen for a long time and you are at risk of stomach ulcer, consult your doctor or pharmacist to prescribe a drug that helps protect your stomach.

What are the common side effects associated with taking ibuprofen?

Taking ibuprofen like almost any other medicine may have some side effects. Most of these side effects are not common with a prevalence of less than 1 in 100 people. Some of these side effects are:

  • Headaches
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Being sick
  • Indigestion

If you have any of these side effects which persist, you can speak to a doctor or pharmacist for advice on how to cope or treat the side effects.

What if ibuprofen does not work?

There are different types of pain and the cause of the pain will determine the type of pain medication to use. If you take ibuprofen and it does not work, there may be a possibility that the cause of the pain isn’t one that is to be treated with ibuprofen.

Ibuprofen does not work well for certain types of pain, including nerve pain. Your doctor or pharmacist would have to consider alternative medicine if your pain is related to your nerves.

In such cases, you can consider using other pain medications like Paracetamol, Gabapentin, or Aspirin. There are other pain medications that can be considered but most of these are prescription-only medications.

As such, you need a doctor or Pharmacist to prescribe them for you. If the OTC painkillers do not work, talk to your doctor to prescribe a stronger painkiller or recommend an alternative treatment, such as physiotherapy as in the case of back pain.

What is the difference between ibuprofen and paracetamol?

While both paracetamol and ibuprofen are good pain relievers, ibuprofen is good for period pain, toothache and migraines. It can also be used for back pain, strains as well as relieving inflammation.

Paracetamol is used for mild or moderate pain. It may be better than ibuprofen for headaches and stomach aches.

Can I use ibuprofen gel and at the same time take ibuprofen tablets?

There won’t be side effects when you use ibuprofen gel at the same time as taking ibuprofen tablets.

But if you’re already taking ibuprofen tablets there won’t be any additional benefit from using the gel. Using the gel is most beneficial when the pain is localized on the small area of your skin and not a form of generalized body pain.

Can I drive after taking ibuprofen?

Some people taking ibuprofen may feel dizzy afterward but others may not. Do not drive after taking ibuprofen if it makes you feel dizzy. If you do not feel dizzy after taking ibuprofen, it may still be advisable to seek the advice of a pharmacist or doctor before you drive.

Should I take ibuprofen with other painkillers?

It’s okay to take ibuprofen with some other painkillers like paracetamol or codeine. In fact, there are a number of pain medications available on the market that contain multiple painkillers including ibuprofen. It is very common to find a pain medication containing both ibuprofen and paracetamol together.

Ibuprofen should not be taken with similar painkillers like aspirin or naproxen. Consult your doctor or pharmacist before taking them.

Ibuprofen and aspirin or naproxen belong to the same group of drugs known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Taking them together may increase the possibility of you getting increased side effects such as stomach aches and feeling dizzy.

NSAIDs are also used to formulate other medicines available at the pharmacies for cough and cold. Check the label for active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) before taking such medicines together with ibuprofen.

Takeaway from this article

Ibuprofen can be taken on an empty stomach in some cases depending on various factors such as dose, length of use, individual factors, and other health conditions. But the best way to take ibuprofen is with food. 

Ibuprofen has the tendency of irritating the stomach to cause stomach ache. It is also advisable not to drink alcohol whilst on ibuprofen since the alcohol can also cause GI irritation when taken.


Asare Anthony Mensah

Mr. Anthony Mensah Asare is a student Pharmacist, currently enrolled in the Doctor of Pharmacy programme offered by the University For Development Studies, Dungu Campus. He is a health promotion enthusiast and devoted to sharing knowledge that will contribute to the health and well-being of his readers.

Dr. Ehoneah Obed is a registered pharmacist and a member of the Pharmaceutical Society of Ghana. He has a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology and has experience working in a Tertiary hospital as well as various community pharmacies. He is also a software engineer interested in healthcare technologies.

His love for helping others motivates him to create content on an array of topics mostly relating to the health of people and also software engineering content.

He is knowledgeable in digital marketing, content marketing, and a host of other skills that make him versatile enough to uplift any team he joins.

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