How does ibuprofen relieve pain?

Matthew F. McCarty, MD

Pain is caused by prostaglandin formation in our body. When a stimulus is received the body produces  prostaglandins at the site. These reactions are dependent on two enzymes, Cox-1 and Cox-2. By inhibiting these enzymes then the prostaglandins are reduced, consequently pain and swelling is reduced.

This is where ibuprofen comes into play. Ibuprofen inhibits the Cox-1 and Cox-2 enzymes therefore reducing the pain, swelling and fever causing prostaglandins. There is some downside to this prostaglandin inhibition. Because Cox-1 enzymes are inhibited  then some protective prostaglandins that act on the stomach lining are reduced and stomach upset can occur. The cox-1 enzyme is also responsible for activating platelets and therefore slowed clotting can be seen.

Ibuprofen prevents your body from making different types of prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are substances in the body that cause inflammation. They also have other functions. They protect the stomach lining so that acid doesn't damage the stomach and they protect the kidney by improving blood flow to the kidney. Because ibuprofen decreases the number and types of prostaglandins in the body, inflammation can decrease (and pain usually also decreases). However, ibuprofen can also cause damage to the stomach and can cause bleeding because it decreases the number of protective prostaglandins. This is why it is important to always take it with food. Ibuprofen can also cause damage to the kidneys over time. It's important to talk to your healthcare providers about what medications you are taking because some of them can have drug interactions with other medications that you might be prescribed.

Ibuprofen works by preventing your body from making a hormone-like substance called prostaglandin. Prostaglandin triggers symptoms of pain associated with inflammation, fever and swelling in different areas of the body. Depending on its use, several doses over a period of time are usually effective in reducing inflammation, pain and fever. Ibuprofen is often used to reduce backaches, muscle aches, headaches, joint stiffness related to arthritis, pre-menstrual and menstrual symptoms, arthritis and physical injury.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.