Voltaren (Diclofenac) vs. Advil (Ibuprofen)

Similarities and Differences Between These Medications

Voltaren (diclofenac) and Advil (ibuprofen) are two medications that take on inflammation, fever, and pain. Both are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), often used to manage osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, post-operative pain, fever, and menstrual cramps.

Though they have very similar effects on the body, key differences exist. For example, in its pill or tablet form, you need a prescription for Voltaren, and only a topical form is available without one. On the other hand, Advil and Motrin come in both prescribed and over-the-counter (OTC) forms.

Medicine cabinet with different items [Voltairen (Diclofenac) vs. Advil (Ibuprofen)]

Verywell / Julie Bang

Being of the same class of medications, Voltaren and Advil may also interact, hindering efficacy and increasing risks of side effects if taken together.

This article explains how these drugs work, as well as their similarities and differences.

How Voltaren and Advil Are Similar

What diclofenac and ibuprofen have in common is the way they act on the body. Basically, they inhibit the activity of a specific enzyme, cyclooxygenase (COX), which regulates pain and inflammatory responses.

In sites of infection, injury, or damage to tissues, this enzyme stimulates substances called prostaglandins. These are associated with pain sensation, and they help regulate blood flow and aid in blood clotting. By limiting the effect of COX, Advil and Voltaren relieve pain (analgesia) and reduce swelling.

Diclofenac vs. Ibuprofen Differences

The differences between diclofenac and ibuprofen primarily have to do with the strength of the dosage. Diclofenac is the more potent of the two, so a smaller amount is needed compared to ibuprofen to produce similar results. Diclofenac is one of the strongest anti-inflammatory drugs.

As such, aside from its topical form (a cream spread on affected areas), Voltaren is only available in the U.S. with a prescription.

Voltaren pills or tablets, coming in 25, 50, and 75 milligram (mg) forms typically are used for mild or moderate pain related to osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and menstrual cramps.

In contrast, Advil takes on a wider set of conditions. Its over-the-counter form, with a strength of 200 mg, provides temporary relief from mild pain associated with:

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Backache
  • Mild arthritis pain
  • Toothache
  • Muscle aches
  • Menstrual cramps

Prescribed forms of ibuprofen, usually sold under the name Motrin, come in 400, 600, and 800 mg doses. These are primarily prescribed in cases of moderate pain due to osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, as well as other conditions.

Diclofenac vs. Ibuprofen Gel

While both aim to treat musculoskeletal injuries, research suggests that diclofenac gel (which comes in strengths of 1% and 3%) seems to provide slightly better pain relief more quickly compared to ibuprofen gel.

Differences in Side Effects

Other distinctions between these two drugs have to do with differences in the rate and severity of side-effects.

Researchers have found that:

  • Advil is more likely than Voltaren to produce upper gastrointestinal issues as well as withdrawal symptoms in arthritis patients.
  • There is an increased risk of liver damage with the use of Voltaren as compared to other NSAIDs.
  • Voltaren may be a better drug in the management of pain following dental surgery. 

NSAID Warnings

In light of both the widespread availability of NSAID drugs and their many applications, the FDA has issued some warnings about their use:

  • Risk of heart attack and stroke is elevated in those with a history of heart problems as well as long-term users of NSAIDs.
  • Suspend use surrounding coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery, as this can increase complications.
  • Ulcers and bleeding can occur, especially among smokers, older people, those taking corticosteroids or anticoagulant drugs, and when accompanying alcohol use.
  • People who are pregnant and close to their due date should avoid NSAIDs.
  • People who are breastfeeding should talk to their healthcare provider about whether use is safe.
  • Allergic reactions also warrant discontinuing treatment; signs include swelling and breathing difficulties.

Drug Interactions With Diclofenac vs. Ibuprofen

Drug interactions are what happens when you take two or more drugs and they react to each other. This can impact how well the drugs work and how your body reacts to the medications. This also puts you at an increased risk for side effects.

Tell your healthcare provider if you are taking any other medication, including other NSAIDs, vitamins, or supplements. Diclofenac and ibuprofen may interact with a variety of drugs.

The following chart lists drugs that may interact with diclofenac and ibuprofen.

Diclofenac
  • Renin inhibitors, which help relax blood vessels

  • ACE inhibitors, which are taken to lower blood pressure

  • Corticosteroids, an anti-inflammatory drug

  • Angiotensin II receptor blockers, which help lower blood pressure

  • Diuretics, or water pills

  • Certain anti-viral drugs

  • Mood stabilizers like lithium

  • Certain drugs used to treat cancer

  • Beta blockers, which help lower blood pressure

  • Certain anti-anxiety or anti-depressant drugs

  • Certain anti-coagulants, or blood thinners

Ibuprofen
  • Certain blood thinners

  • Oral steroids

  • Certain anti-anxiety or anti-depressant drugs

  • ACE inhibitors

  • Angiotensin receptor blockers

  • Beta blockers

  • Water pills


When to Call Your Healthcare Provider

Serious side effects of NSAIDs, though rare, may occur due to their effects on the heart, blood circulation, liver, kidneys, brain, and intestines, among other systems. Stop using your medication and call your healthcare provider if you experience any of the following:

  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Itchiness
  • Jaundice (yellow eyes and skin)
  • Stomach pain
  • Flu symptoms
  • Vomiting blood
  • Bloody or black, tar-like stool
  • Skin rash/blisters accompanied by fever
  • Swelling in the limbs
  • Unusual weight gain

In addition, call 911 and seek emergency help if you have:

  • Breathing problems
  • Chest pains
  • Weakness on one side of the body
  • Swelling in the face or throat

A Word From Verywell

While there may be some drawbacks and unintended effects to taking NSAIDs like diclofenac and ibuprofen, it’s important to note that these are generally very successful in managing pain and swelling. Especially for rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, these drugs have proven time and again to be essential in helping alleviate symptoms.

There's a reason these have been consistently prescribed and made so widely available. That said, they should never be taken together, and you need to be careful about dosage.

If you’re taking these, be mindful of how you’re feeling, and if anything seems off, be sure to let your healthcare provider know. Used properly, diclofenac and ibuprofen may prove instrumental in alleviating the suffering caused by these conditions.   

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do anti-inflammatory creams like Voltaren Gel help with osteoarthritis?

    Yes, an anti-inflammatory cream like Voltaren Gel can help with osteoarthritis pain management. In addition to treating pain, it can improve joint function and reduce stiffness. Voltaren Gel is approved by the FDA and has shown positive results during studies. A healthcare provider can prescribe the gel to treat osteoarthritis in various joints.

  • Does Motrin make you sleepy?

    Very rarely. Less than 1% of people experience this.

  • How long after diclofenac can I take ibuprofen?

    If you are currently taking diclofenac, you should not use ibuprofen alongside it or soon afterward. Using NSAIDs concurrently or one after another can worsen their performance and potentially cause harmful side effects. It's important to always follow a healthcare provider's instructions when using a drug.

  • Can I take ibuprofen every day for arthritis?

    Ibuprofen can be helpful for pain relief associated with arthritis flares. However, healthcare providers don't usually advise daily ibuprofen due to gastrointestinal risks.

  • How many days in a row can you take ibuprofen?

    You should not take ibuprofen for more than 10 days in a row unless directed by a healthcare provider. That's because ibuprofen increases the risk of heart attack and stroke, especially when taken for a long duration or at higher dosages. Therefore, you should take the lowest effective dose for the shortest possible time.

14 Sources
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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  2. Sherve K, Gerard CJ, Neher JO, St Anna L. Cardiovascular effects of NSAIDs. Am Fam Physician. 2014;90(4).

  3. da Costa BR, Reichenbach S, Keller N, et al. Effectiveness of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for the treatment of pain in knee and hip osteoarthritis: a network meta-analysisThe Lancet. 2017;390(10090):e21-e33. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(17)31744-0

  4. MedlinePlus. Diclofenac.

  5. U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Ibuprofen Drug Facts Label.

  6. US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Motrin® Ibuprofen Tablets, USP.

  7. Wade AG, Crawford GM, Young D, Corson S, Brown C. Comparison of diclofenac gel, ibuprofen gel, and ibuprofen gel with levomenthol for the topical treatment of pain associated with musculoskeletal injuriesJ Int Med Res. 2019;47(9):4454-4468. doi:10.1177/0300060519859146

  8. LiverTox: Clinical and Research Information on Drug-Induced Liver Injury. Diclofenac. Bethesda (MD): National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

  9. Gazal G, Al-Samadani K. Comparison of paracetamol, ibuprofen, and diclofenac potassium for pain relief following dental extractions and deep cavity preparations. Saudi Med J. 2017;38(3):284-291. doi:10.15537/smj.2017.3.16023

  10. US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Medication Guide for Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs).

  11. MedlinePlus. Ibuprofen.

  12. Bariguian Revel F, Fayet M, Hagen M. Topical diclofenac, an efficacious treatment for osteoarthritis: a narrative reviewRheumatol Ther. 2020;7(2):217-236. doi:10.1007/s40744-020-00196-6

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By Mark Gurarie
Mark Gurarie is a freelance writer, editor, and adjunct lecturer of writing composition at George Washington University.