How Long Does It Take For Ibuprofen To Work?
Written By Kobi Nathan, Pharm.D., M.Ed., CDP, BCGP, AGSF
Sleep Disorders
May 14, 2023

When the going gets tough and you’re grappling with pain, inflammation, or fever, you might find yourself reaching for ibuprofen, a popular non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) found in well-known brands like Advil, Motrin, and Midol.

As a reliable ally in combating discomfort and helping you get back on your feet, ibuprofen is often the go-to medication for many.

But how long does it actually take for ibuprofen to work its magic and what dosage is safe and effective?

In this article, we’ll explore the ins and outs of this widely-used drug, providing you with the information you need to ensure both safety and efficacy.

We’ll start by delving into the mechanics behind how ibuprofen works to alleviate pain and inflammation by inhibiting prostaglandin-producing enzymes.

Then, we’ll discuss the onset and duration of its effects, giving you a clear idea of what to expect when taking this medication.

You’ll also learn about appropriate dosages, whether or not you should take ibuprofen with food, and some potential adverse effects to watch out for.

Additionally, we’ll touch on interactions and precautions to consider before using this drug, as well as alternatives to ibuprofen if it’s not the right fit for you.

By the end of this article, you’ll feel well-equipped to make informed decisions about using ibuprofen to manage your symptoms and get back to feeling your best.

But, you came here to find out how long it takes for ibuprofen to kick in…so, here’s the quick answer:

How long does ibuprofen take to work?

Ibuprofen has a quick onset of action – 20 to 30 minutes.

Now that we have your specific question answered, read on to get the background information about how ibuprofen works…

Overview of Ibuprofen

It’s essential to understand ibuprofen’s purpose and how it functions as a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) before diving into its onset of action.

Ibuprofen is commonly used for pain relief, reducing inflammation, and lowering fever.

You might recognize it under popular brand names such as Advil, Motrin, and Midol.

While you’re seeking relief, it’s crucial to consider the safe and effective dosages of ibuprofen to ensure you’re using the medication responsibly.

Ibuprofen works by inhibiting an enzyme that helps produce compounds called prostaglandins, which are associated with pain and inflammation in the body.

By reducing the production of prostaglandins, ibuprofen can provide relief from various types of pain and swelling.

The dosage of ibuprofen you take will depend on factors such as your age, weight, and the severity of your symptoms.

It is generally recommended to start with a lower dose and increase as needed, but always follow the instructions on the label or consult your healthcare provider for personalized guidance.

Now that you have a better understanding of ibuprofen and its role as an NSAID, you might be curious about the time it takes for the medication to start working.

The onset of action varies among individuals, but in general, you can expect to feel the effects of ibuprofen within 20 to 30 minutes after taking it orally.

Keep in mind that factors such as individual metabolism, the severity of your symptoms, and the specific formulation of the ibuprofen you’re taking can all influence how quickly it works for you.

Up next, let’s explore the science behind ibuprofen’s mechanism of action and how it provides relief to your body.

How does ibuprofen work?

Once swallowed, ibuprofen swiftly starts its mission to block the pesky enzyme, effectively silencing the pain and inflammation signals that cause discomfort in your body.

The time it takes for ibuprofen to start working can vary depending on factors such as the individual’s metabolism, the severity of their symptoms, and the dosage taken.

Generally, though, you can expect to feel relief from pain and inflammation within 20 to 30 minutes after taking ibuprofen orally.

Ibuprofen works its magic by inhibiting the enzyme cyclooxygenase (COX), which is responsible for producing prostaglandins.

These prostaglandins are the culprits behind the pain and inflammation you experience during an injury, illness, or even your monthly menstrual cycle.

By targeting the COX enzyme, ibuprofen effectively blocks the production of prostaglandins, providing relief from pain and inflammation, and even reducing fever in some cases.

While it’s reassuring to know how long it takes for ibuprofen to work, keep in mind that the duration of its effects can also vary from person to person.

Up next, we’ll delve into the onset and duration of ibuprofen’s action in more detail.

How long does it take for ibuprofen to work?

You might be wondering about the time it takes for ibuprofen to kick in and provide relief from your symptoms. The answer can vary depending on factors like your individual body chemistry, the severity of your symptoms, and the dosage you take.

However, there are some general guidelines to help you understand when you can expect to feel pain relief from ibuprofen.

On average, ibuprofen takes around 30 to 60 minutes to begin working after you’ve taken it orally.

You may experience faster relief if you take the medication with food, as this can help your body to absorb the drug more quickly.

For some people, it may take up to 2 hours for the full effects of ibuprofen to be felt, particularly if they’re dealing with more severe pain or inflammation.

Now that you have an idea of when to expect relief, you might be curious about how long the effects of ibuprofen last in your system.

Can You Take Tylenol And Ibuprofen Together For Pain Relief?

Absolutely! In fact, the pain relief and onset of action is faster and more potent when you combine acetaminophen and ibuprofen.

This is possible because of the synergistic therapeutic effect of both medications. I highly encourage you to read my detailed article on this topic here.

How long does ibuprofen last?

The answer to how long ibuprofen lasts can vary depending on factors such as the dosage taken, your individual metabolism, and the specific issue you’re trying to address.

Generally speaking, though, ibuprofen’s pain-relieving effects typically last for about 4 to 6 hours. This means that if you’re taking ibuprofen to work on easing your pain or inflammation, you can expect relief to start within 20 to 30 minutes and last for a decent amount of time.

As you can see, the time it takes for ibuprofen to work and its duration of effects do not significantly change with different dosages. However, it’s essential to follow the recommended dosing guidelines to ensure you’re using this medication safely and effectively. In the next article section, we’ll dive into the specifics on how ibuprofen dosing works, so you can feel confident in your understanding of this popular pain-relieving medication.

How is ibuprofen dosed?

When considering ibuprofen dosage for children, it’s important to follow the recommendations based on their age and weight, as well as consult with a pediatrician for guidance.

For adults, a typical dosage ranges from 200 to 400 mg every 4 to 6 hours, not exceeding 1,200 mg per day, unless directed by a healthcare provider.

Higher doses are possible and appropriate for certain conditions but must be prescribed and overseen by a medical provider.

Remember, it’s crucial to monitor the response and adjust the dosage as needed while avoiding long-term use without consulting a medical professional.

Should you take ibuprofen with food?

When it comes to taking ibuprofen, many people wonder if it’s better to take it with food or on an empty stomach. The answer to this question can affect not only how long it takes for ibuprofen to work but also its potential side effects.

In general, it’s recommended to take ibuprofen with food or a glass of milk to help minimize the risk of gastrointestinal irritation, which can occur with NSAIDs like ibuprofen.

Consuming food can also help slow down the absorption of the drug, making it less likely for you to experience stomach-related side effects.

However, it’s worth noting that having a full stomach might slightly delay the onset of pain relief, but the difference is usually not significant enough to cause concern.

The most important thing is to follow the recommended dosage guidelines for adults, as discussed in the previous section of this article.

Now that you know how to properly take ibuprofen, let’s move on to the next section, which will discuss the potential side effects of this popular pain reliever.

Side Effects of ibuprofen

You may be curious about the potential side effects of ibuprofen, and it’s important to note that while most people tolerate it well, around 10-15% of users may experience some adverse effects.

When considering how long it takes for ibuprofen to work, it’s essential to be aware of these potential side effects.

Generally, ibuprofen may begin relieving pain and inflammation within 1-2 hours, but side effects can also emerge during this time frame or later.

Some common side effects of ibuprofen include upset stomach, heartburn, diarrhea, constipation, headache, dizziness, drowsiness, and mild skin rash.

It’s important to listen to your body and monitor for any signs of these side effects while taking the medication.

If you experience any severe side effects, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, slurred speech, or signs of an allergic reaction (like hives, difficulty breathing, or swelling of the face, lips, tongue, or throat), it’s crucial to seek medical attention immediately.

As you continue to learn about ibuprofen’s effects and how long it takes to work, it’s essential to be mindful of interactions and precautions associated with this medication.

In the following section, we’ll delve deeper into these important considerations to help ensure you have a safe and effective experience with ibuprofen.

Interactions and Precautions

Diving into the world of interactions and precautions is vital for a well-rounded understanding of ibuprofen’s effects on the body, as it helps you stay safe while reaping the benefits of this popular pain reliever.

While you may be eager to know how long it takes for ibuprofen to work, it’s equally important to consider the potential interactions with other medications and any precautions you should take.

Being aware of these factors ensures you can make informed decisions about using ibuprofen in a contextually relevant manner.

Ibuprofen may interact with other medications such as (list is not exhaustive):

  • Blood thinners (aspirin – increased bleeding risk).
  • Diuretics (Furosemide – efficacy decreased, kidney injury possible).
  • Other NSAIDs (doubling up on NSAIDs is dangerous and unnecessary – increases the risk of side effects).

Additionally, individuals with certain medical conditions, like asthma, kidney or liver disease, heartburn, or a history of stomach ulcers, should exercise caution when using ibuprofen.

If you are an older adult, you should be particularly careful about taking ibuprofen because you are more susceptible to the medication’s adverse effects, and are more at risk for negative outcomes, including hospitalization and premature death.

Medications affect seniors differently than younger people, and older adults absorb, metabolize, and eliminate medications differently as well.

I teach these important concepts to physicians, therapists, pharmacy students, and other allied healthcare professionals.

If you want to know more, read my in-depth articles on the 2023 Updated Beers Criteria of Inappropriate Medications and Polypharmacy in the Elderly.

If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, it’s essential to consult with your healthcare provider before taking ibuprofen, as it may have potential risks to the developing baby.

To minimize the chance of adverse effects, always follow the recommended dosage and duration of use, as outlined by your healthcare provider or the product label.

Now that you have a better understanding of the interactions and precautions surrounding ibuprofen, you might be wondering if there are alternative options available.

In the next section, we’ll explore various alternatives to ibuprofen, helping you make informed choices when it comes to managing pain and inflammation.

Alternatives to Ibuprofen

While it’s crucial to know ibuprofen’s effects, considering alternatives can be beneficial, especially since around 30 to 50% of NSAID users may experience stomach lesions and ulcerations!

If you’re concerned about how long it takes for ibuprofen to work or if you’re seeking other options for pain relief, there are several alternatives to ibuprofen that can be just as effective in providing relief.

These alternatives may be more suitable for your specific needs or may help you avoid potential side effects associated with long-term NSAID use.

Some alternatives to ibuprofen include:

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol): A popular over-the-counter pain reliever and fever reducer, which works differently than nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and is generally easier on the stomach.
  • Naproxen (Aleve): Another type of NSAID, which is longer-acting and may provide more extended pain relief compared to ibuprofen.
  • Aspirin: A well-known pain reliever and anti-inflammatory drug that can also help reduce fever, although it may not be suitable for everyone due to potential side effects, such as stomach irritation and bleeding.
  • Topical pain relievers: Creams, gels, and patches containing ingredients like menthol, capsaicin, or lidocaine, which can be applied directly to the skin for localized pain relief.

Remember that everyone’s body is different, and what works for one person may not work for another.

When choosing an alternative to ibuprofen, consider factors such as your medical history, the severity of your pain, and how long you need pain relief.

It’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional before trying a new pain-relief option, as they can provide guidance based on your individual needs and help you make an informed decision.

Exploring alternatives to ibuprofen can help you find the best solution for your pain management needs.

By considering different options and discussing them with your healthcare provider, you can feel confident in your choice and be part of a supportive community seeking the most effective and safe pain relief methods.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I take ibuprofen if I’m pregnant or breastfeeding?

If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, it’s important to consult with your healthcare provider before taking ibuprofen. While this medication can help relieve pain and inflammation, it may not be safe for your baby, particularly during certain stages of pregnancy.

During the first and second trimesters, it’s generally advised to avoid using NSAIDs like ibuprofen, as they can increase the risk of miscarriage and birth defects. In the third trimester, taking ibuprofen may cause premature closure of the ductus arteriosus, a vital blood vessel in your baby’s heart.

As for breastfeeding, ibuprofen is considered relatively safe in small amounts but always check with your healthcare provider to ensure it’s the best choice for both you and your baby.

Ibuprofen concentration in breat milk

According to the manufacturer of ibuprofen, the relative infant dose (RID) of the drug is 0.06% to 0.6% when weight-adjusted for the mother’s dose.

Generally, breastfeeding is appropriate when the RID is less than 10%.

Based on these numbers,  it seems likely that breastfeeding is safe when the mother takes doctor-recommended doses of ibuprofen.

That said, since we are talking about the safety of little ones, never compromise and always consult with your pediatrician first!

How does ibuprofen compare to other NSAIDs, like naproxen or aspirin, in terms of effectiveness and safety?

When comparing ibuprofen to other NSAIDs like naproxen or aspirin, it’s important to consider both effectiveness and safety.

While all three medications can provide relief from pain, inflammation, and fever, their potency and side effects may vary.

Ibuprofen tends to have a quicker onset of action than naproxen, but its effects may not last as long.

Aspirin, on the other hand, is often recommended for its heart-protective benefits, but it may carry a higher risk of gastrointestinal side effects compared to ibuprofen.

Ultimately, it’s best to discuss your specific needs and medical history with your healthcare provider to determine which NSAID is the most suitable choice for you.

Can long-term use of ibuprofen lead to any complications or health issues?

Long-term use of ibuprofen can potentially lead to complications or health issues. While it’s generally considered safe for short-term use, taking it for extended periods may increase your risk of developing side effects such as gastrointestinal issues, kidney problems, and cardiovascular events.

To minimize these risks, it’s important to follow the recommended dosage and consult with your healthcare provider if you find yourself relying on ibuprofen for an extended period.

They can help you determine the best course of action and potentially suggest alternative treatments to manage your pain or inflammation.

Remember, it’s always better to be cautious and informed when it comes to your health and well-being.

Are there any natural or home remedies that can be used as alternatives to ibuprofen for pain and inflammation relief?

If you’re looking for natural or home remedies as alternatives to ibuprofen for pain and inflammation relief, there are several options available.

Some effective alternatives include applying cold or warm compresses, practicing relaxation techniques like deep breathing exercises, and using essential oils such as lavender or eucalyptus.

Additionally, you can try incorporating anti-inflammatory foods like ginger, turmeric, and omega-3-rich fish into your diet.

Herbal supplements, such as white willow bark and devil’s claw, have also shown promise in alleviating pain and inflammation.

Remember, it’s essential to consult with your healthcare provider before trying any new remedies or supplements, as they can provide personalized advice based on your specific needs and overall health.


OTC Ibuprofen is a good option for the short-term treatment of pain and inflammation.

On average, it takes about 30 minutes to kick in before you start getting symptom relief.

Ibuprofen may not be appropriate if you are taking certain medications or have some health conditions.

Any questions, check with your doctor or pharmacist.

Related Post