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Migraines & headaches health centre


BMJ Group Medical Reference


This information is for adults who get migraines. It tells you about ibuprofen, a treatment used for migraines. It is based on the best and most up-to-date research.

Does it work?

Yes. If you take ibuprofen, there is a good chance that a migraine headache will get better.

What is it?

Ibuprofen is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). You can buy it over the counter at a pharmacy. Or you can get higher doses on prescription from your doctor.

Nurofen and Cuprofen are common brands, but you can also just ask for ibuprofen.

How can it help?

Ibuprofen can make the headache from your migraine better. It can also help with other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and being extra-sensitive to light and sound. However, it does not help everyone. [30]

Here's what we know from the research. [30]

  • Around 1 in 4 people taking 400 milligrams (mg) of ibuprofen for moderate to severe migraine pain will have no pain after two hours, compared with only 1 in 10 people taking a pretend treatment (a placebo).

  • Around 1 in 2 people taking 400 mg will have no worse than mild pain after two hours, compared with only 1 in 4 people taking a placebo.

  • A 200 mg dose of ibuprofen can also help, although not as much as the higher dose.

  • A 400 mg dose of ibuprofen works as well as a 1,000 mg dose of aspirin.

How does it work?

Like other NSAIDs, ibuprofen works by stopping your body making chemicals called prostaglandins. Your body makes these chemicals when you are in pain or injured. Prostaglandins cause inflammation and make you more sensitive to pain. By stopping the prostaglandins, ibuprofen can help you feel better.

Can it be harmful?

The drawback of ibuprofen and other NSAIDs is that they can irritate the lining of your stomach. This may cause stomach ulcers or bleeding in your stomach. It's usually best not to take NSAIDs if you have a stomach ulcer or if you've had one in the past.

A study showed that about 1 in 10 people taking ibuprofen had pain and discomfort in their stomach, but this side effect was not a serious problem. [31]

Guidelines for doctors say that patients who need an NSAID should take ibuprofen first because it has fewer side effects than other NSAIDs. Guidelines also say that if you need an NSAID you should:

  • Start on the lowest recommended dose

  • Not use more than one NSAID at a time.

NSAIDs can also make asthma worse. [32]

Taking high doses of some NSAIDs every day for a long time may increase your risk of getting a heart attack or a stroke. This is unlikely to be a problem with the doses you take for a migraine. But if you'd like to read more, see Warnings about side effects of NSAIDs.

Last Updated: September 26, 2013
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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