A bottle of ibuprofen is a familiar sight in many medicine cabinets, and for good reason, ibuprofen is a medication to reduce inflammation, stiffness, and even fever.
Ibuprofen is a member of the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) family, which often comes to the rescue for headaches, arthritis discomfort, or the monthly agony of menstrual cramps. If you’ve been wondering how often you can safely take ibuprofen, doctors say it’s important to remember: Whether it’s at the corner store or in a higher dose prescribed by your doctor, ibuprofen comes with instructions that shouldn’t be ignored.
Here’s how often you can take ibuprofen in general
Although ibuprofen is a well-known drug, it is important to adhere to safe dosage limits. The highest single dose of ibuprofen available is generally 800 milligrams, although a dose of 400 milligrams or more will likely require a prescription, and you should not give yourself a dose at this level (or higher) without a doctor’s direction.
Experts say you shouldn’t exceed 3,200 milligrams of ibuprofen in one day, and each individual dose should be spread over several hours. Your doctor will have specific instructions.
If you find yourself reaching for ibuprofen fairly regularly, especially if you’ve been using it for more than a week, Robert Paisley, MD, a cardiac electrophysiologist and general cardiologist at the Texas Heart Institute, recommends reducing your daily intake to 2,400 milligrams. Note that he also emphasizes the importance of consulting with your doctor to determine the lowest effective dose for your pain.
The Mayo Clinic provides ibuprofen dosage guidelines for certain types of pain:
- For menstrual cramps, they suggest 400 milligrams every four hours.
- A dose of 400 milligrams also works for general pain relief and should be spread over four to six hourly intervals.
- If you are managing arthritis pain, the daily dose can vary from 1200 to 3200 milligrams, divided into several doses.
Note: Be careful not to mix ibuprofen with other NSAIDs, such as naproxen (such as Aleve) or ketorolac. (Acetaminophen, like Tylenol, is not an NSAID and should only be alternated with ibuprofen under the supervision of a licensed physician. Always check with a health care professional before combining pain relievers.)
Since these drugs are available over the counter, it is easy to accidentally overdose, which can be very dangerous and in some cases fatal.
This over-the-counter drug is linked to a 20% higher risk of anemia in the elderly, research says
Ibuprofen side effects
When taken in large doses or over a long period of time, ibuprofen can cause some unwanted side effects, such as kidney problems or stomach ulcers. It is especially important to pay attention to these problems if you already have health problems or if you are combining ibuprofen with other medicines. Some of these symptoms may include unusual abdominal pain and changes in bathroom habits.
Cardiologists also warn: Although it can be helpful, ibuprofen can sometimes raise blood pressure and increase the chances of heart complications.
Here’s how often you should actually check your blood pressure, according to a cardiologist
Alternatives to ibuprofen
If you find that ibuprofen has become a bit of a regular part of your daily life, it may be time to look at other ways to manage your discomfort. There are many ways to relieve pain that do not involve drugs. For example, physical therapy or acupuncture can be effective alternatives, offering relief by getting to the root of the pain.
Also, don’t underestimate the power of a good diet. Adjusting what you eat to include more anti-inflammatory foods could make a noticeable difference in managing chronic pain.
When it comes to persistent pain, it is wise to get advice from a healthcare professional. Relying only on medications such as ibuprofen can sometimes mask an underlying problem that requires professional attention. For example, Dr. Paisley warns that recurring headaches deserve closer consideration, as they may signal something more serious than just everyday stress.
And while it can be a quick fix for problems like back pain (which can also be a sign of a bigger problem if it’s ongoing), ibuprofen isn’t a long-term strategy. Incorporating regular physical activity into your routine and stretching can do wonders not only for your pain, but also for your overall sense of well-being.
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