Ibuprofen for Treating Headaches and Migraines

Safety Profile and Dosing of Ibuprofen

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

How It 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 bodily processes as pain, inflammation, and temperature control.

Potential Side Effects

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 (for example, warfarin) or corticosteroids (for example, 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. 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 to the above, be sure to call your healthcare 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
  • Stomach pain
  • Unexplained weight gain or swelling
  • Unusual fatigue
  • Yellowing of eyes or skin

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

Typical Doses

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 of side effects, this will also prevent the onset of a medication overuse headache.

Pregnancy Concerns

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.


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 total amount of ibuprofen you are taking.

A Word From Verywell

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.

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