Naproxen vs. Ibuprofen: Which Is Better for Arthritis?

Naproxen and ibuprofen belong to a class of drugs called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). They are better known by their brand names Aleve (naproxen) and Advil or Motrin (ibuprofen). Both work to inhibit chemicals that cause inflammation in the body due to arthritis.

These two NSAIDs also have differences. For example, naproxen offers long-lasting relief and is taken twice daily. On the other hand, ibuprofen is a shorter-acting anti-inflammatory that is taken every four to six hours.

Person with arthritis taking over-the-counter pain reliever

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They are both available as pills and liquid capsules, but ibuprofen is also available in liquid form. Naproxen is safe for anyone age 12 and over, whereas small doses of ibuprofen can be given to children under age 12, including infants.

The article will cover the similarities and differences between naproxen and ibuprofen, their effectiveness, safety, and side effects for people with arthritis.

Naproxen vs. Ibuprofen: Which Is More Effective for Arthritis?   

Both naproxen and ibuprofen are effective at reducing pain. They are more effective than Tylenol (acetaminophen), which is not an NSAID. Naproxen and ibuprofen are given as first-line (initial) therapies for many types of arthritis.

Naproxen and ibuprofen are classified as nonselective NSAIDs because they block both cyclooxygenase 2 (COX-2) and cyclooxygenase 1 (COX-1) enzymes. Blocking these enzymes can effectively relieve pain and bring down inflammation.

COX-2 enzymes are involved in pain signaling and inflammation, primarily at the site of inflammation. In addition to those functions, COX-1 enzymes work to protect the stomach lining from digestive juices, and so blocking COX-1 can produce undesirable side effects.

Naproxen will stay active in the body for longer than ibuprofen. Its effects can last up to 12 hours, so you only need two doses to get 24-hour coverage. Naproxen is also available as a prescription-strength extended-relief tablet. 

Ibuprofen is short-acting, so it needs to be taken every four to six hours. The dosing difference between naproxen and ibuprofen makes naproxen a more convenient option for arthritis pain relief.

Naproxen vs. Ibuprofen: Which Is Safer?  

Studies have questioned the safety of NSAIDs like naproxen and ibuprofen due to their effects on cardiovascular health.

Such findings have led the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require strong warnings on the drug labels of all NSAID pain relievers related to their risk for heart attack and stroke if taken in high doses for long periods. The risk for heart attack or stroke from NSAID use is higher for people with preexisting heart disease.

What Is Heart Disease?

The terms "heart disease" and "cardiovascular disease" refer to conditions that cause heart and blood vessel problems. Some heart disease conditions are coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, and congestive heart failure.

Naproxen might have a lower risk for heart problems than other NSAIDs. According to a 2017 American Journal of Cardiovascular Drugs report, over-the-counter (OTC) naproxen is believed to pose minimal cardiovascular risk.

The report's authors suggest healthcare providers assess benefits, risks, and appropriate use for each person being treated to address any underlying conditions that might lead to a cardiovascular event.  

Taken occasionally and as directed, NSAIDs are generally safe. But long-term use of NSAIDs can lead to kidney problems and gastrointestinal (GI) troubles.  

Overuse of NSAIDs might lead to acute kidney injury. The risk for kidney damage is the same for all NSAIDs. That risk might be higher for some people, including:  

  • Older adults
  • People taking diuretics (water pills)
  • People who have preexisting kidney problems 

Ibuprofen's risk for ulcers and gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding (esophagus and stomach) is slightly lower than naproxen's. Healthcare providers recommend taking the lowest effective NSAID dose for the shortest time possible to prevent GI problems.

If you are taking NSAID pain relievers to manage arthritis pain, a healthcare provider might prescribe a combination drug of an NSAID and a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) to protect your GI tract. Alternatively, a healthcare provider might suggest adding a PPI to your treatment plan, such as Prilosec (omeprazole) or Nexium (esomeprazole).

Naproxen Side Effects

All medications have side effects. Most of them resolve once the body gets used to the drug. Because naproxen and ibuprofen are both NSAIDs, they cause some of the same side effects.

The most common side effects of naproxen are:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Heartburn and indigestion
  • Gas or abdominal bloating 
  • Dizziness 

More severe side effects of naproxen include:

  • Ulcers
  • GI bleeding 
  • Perforation (a hole that forms through the stomach, large bowel, or small intestine)
  • Anemia (lack of healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to tissue throughout the body)
  • High blood pressure 
  • Cardiovascular events (i.e., heart attack, heart failure, stroke, etc.)
  • Kidney disease, including kidney failure
  • Liver disease, including liver failure 
  • Life-threatening allergic reactions 

Ibuprofen Side Effects

The same side effects caused by naproxen can also occur with ibuprofen use. However, the risk for high blood pressure and cardiovascular events is much higher with ibuprofen.

Do not take more than the recommended dosage for naproxen and ibuprofen to lessen the potential for side effects. Do not take either OTC NSAID for more than 10 days at a time without talking to a healthcare provider first. Smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol while on NSAIDs can increase your risk for side effects. 

If you experience severe side effects while taking naproxen or ibuprofen, reach out to a healthcare provider. You should also reach out if you believe you may have taken too much of either drug. 

Choosing the Right Medication

There is no right or wrong answer for managing your arthritis pain. You must figure out what works best for you and your overall health. 

Determining the best medication for you depends on a few different factors, such as:

  • What type of arthritis you have
  • How your body reacts to the medicine 
  • Other health conditions you might have  

What works well for someone else to manage arthritis pain might not work for you. Therefore, you will need to try different pain relievers to see what helps. 

Healthcare providers are a good resource for helping you manage your arthritis pain. They can assess your pain and determine whether an OTC NSAID is best or if you might need a more potent pain reliever.

Dosage

Naproxen comes as both an oral tablet and a liquid gel capsule. The lowest dosage of naproxen recommended for arthritis is 250 milligrams (mg), taken up to twice daily. The maximum recommended dosage for arthritis is 1,500 milligrams per day for limited periods of up to six months for everyone 12 and older.

Ibuprofen comes in oral tablets, liquid gel capsules, chewable tablets, liquid drops, and a liquid suspension. It can be taken every four to six hours as needed. The recommended OTC dosages for managing arthritis pain in people ages 12 and up are 200–400 milligrams every four to six hours as needed at no more than 1,200 milligrams daily. The dosing for children 12 and under varies based on the child's weight.

Summary  

Both naproxen and ibuprofen are part of a class of drugs called NSAIDs. They are effective pain relievers for arthritis pain. They are fast-acting and work similarly to reduce pain and bring down inflammation. 

Because they are both NSAIDs, they cause many of the same side effects. However, the risk for heart disease may be higher with ibuprofen. A healthcare provider can help you decide which NSAID is safest and more effective for managing your arthritis pain. 

A Word From Verywell

NSAID pain relievers are not your only option for managing arthritis pain. Many arthritis conditions can cause significant pain, and pain management can be vital to improving your prognosis and outlook.

Additional pain management options include non-NSAID pain relievers, corticosteroids to bring down inflammation, disease-modifying therapies, physical therapy, and surgery to repair or replace damaged bones and joints.

While there is no cure for arthritis, treatment can slow down its effects, reduce pain, make other symptoms manageable, and prevent or slow joint damage and disability. Work with a healthcare provider to find the best treatment plan for your unique health situation. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the most effective anti-inflammatory for arthritis?

    Studies have found that Voltaren (diclofenac) is the most effective pain reliever for arthritis. It is available as a prescription in pill form and as a topical gel, which you can buy over the counter (without a prescription). 

  • Can I take naproxen or ibuprofen every day for arthritis?

    Taking any OTC medication regularly without first talking to a healthcare provider is never a good idea. Do not take OTC pain relievers for more than 10 days. Much like prescription NSAIDs, OTC NSAIDs can cause side effects.

  • Is naproxen stronger than ibuprofen?

    Naproxen's effects last longer than ibuprofen's, but they are both strong and effective pain relievers. They also are more effective than Tylenol (acetaminophen) and are considered first-line therapies for many types of arthritis. 



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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Lana Barhum
Lana Barhum has been a freelance medical writer since 2009. She shares advice on living well with chronic disease.