Using Ibuprofen to Treat Headaches and Migraines

Safety Profile and Dosing of Ibuprofen

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Ibuprofen is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), and a common headache and migraine therapy that can be purchased over the counter. 

How Ibuprofen Works 

Ibuprofen blocks an enzyme in the body called cyclooxygenase (COX), which then blocks the production of prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are important molecules involved in such processes as pain, inflammation, and temperature control.

Potential Side Effects of Ibuprofen

The most common side effect is gastrointestinal discomfort or upset.

Ibuprofen, like all of the NSAIDs, can cause irritation of the stomach or intestinal  lining, leading to ulceration and bleeding. This risk increases with older age, longer duration, smoking or alcohol use, and being on other medications like blood thinners (warfarIn) or corticosteroids (prednisone). In addition, while taking ibuprofen, some patients may notice an increase in their blood pressure, so those being treated for hypertension should be especially careful.

Other common side effects include constipation, diarrhea, gas or bloating, dizziness, nervousness, and ringing in the ears. Call your physician if these are severe, bothersome, or worsened with time.

Non-aspirin NSAIDs, like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), diclofenac, and celecoxib (Celebrex) may increase a person's risk of heart attack and stroke. So it's vital that you seek medical attention right away if you experience chest pain, difficulties with breathing, slurred speech, or any other neurological problems like weakness on one part or side of the body.

Ibuprofen can also cause an allergic reaction in some people, so seek medical attention immediately if you develop swelling of your face or throat.

In addition, call your health care practitioner immediately should you experience any of the following:

  • allergic reactions like skin rash, itching or hives
  • black or bloody stools, blood in the urine or in vomit
  • visual changes
  • general ill feeling or flu-like symptoms
  • nausea or vomiting
  • redness, blistering, peeling or loosening of the skin
  • slurred speech or weakness on one side of the body
  • stomach pain
  • unexplained weight gain or swelling
  • unusual fatigue
  • yellowing of eyes or skin

Always check with your health care provider about how ibuprofen may interact with other medications you are taking.

Typical Doses of Ibuprofen

Your health care provider will help you determine what the correct dose is based on your underlying medical problems, current medications, and other factors. Over-the-counter ibuprofen tablets contain 200 mg of medication, and this is generally safe to take up to three times per day. Higher doses can be prescribed if necessary but may increase your risk of side effects. The maximum daily dose for an adult is usually considered to be 800 mg three times per day. 

It's important to take Ibuprofen only as directed and at the lowest dose and for the shortest time as possible.

In addition to lowering your risk for side effects, this will also prevent the onset of a medication overuse headache.

Pregnancy Concerns with Ibuprofen

Ibuprofen is pregnancy class C, meaning that there is no definite evidence about whether or not it's safe to take in pregnancy. Make sure you discuss its use with your obstetrician before taking ibuprofen. It's contraindicated in the last three months of pregnancy as it can cause problems to your baby or during delivery.  

In What Forms is Ibuprofen Available?

Ibuprofen comes in a wide variety of forms, including tablets, gel caps, and liquid form. Common brands include Advil and Motrin. It's also found in some combination cold and flu products. Be sure to read drug labels carefully to verify the amount of ibuprofen you are taking.

Bottom Line

Ibuprofen is a reasonable first-line therapy for your run-of-the-mill tension headache or mild to moderate migraine. That being said, be sure to confirm with your doctor that it's OK to take ibuprofen. As an NSAID, it may interact with your other medications and not be safe for you based on your medical history. 


"Ibuprofen. Medline Plus Website, U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health. Accessed January 13, 2010.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (July 9th 2015). FDA Drug Safety Communication: FDA strengthens warning that non-aspirin nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NsAIDs) can cause heart attacks or strokes. 

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Medication Guide for Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs). 

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Ibuprofen Drug Facts and Label

DISCLAIMER: The information in this site is for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

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