Here’s How Often You Can Take Ibuprofen, Say Expert Doctors

Updated: Jan. 21, 2024

When you seek comfort in a cup of tea and a cozy blanket, doctors share how often you can take ibuprofen for your aches and pains—plus cautions about this seemingly harmless medicine cabinet basic.

An ibuprofen bottle is a familiar sight in many a medicine cabinet, and for good reason—ibuprofen is a go-to medication for reducing inflammation, stiffness, and even fevers.

Ibuprofen is a member of the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) family of drugs, often coming to the rescue for a headache, arthritis discomfort or the monthly ordeal of menstrual cramps. If you’ve wondered how often you can you take ibuprofen safely, doctors say it’s important to remember: Whether it’s from the corner store or a higher dosage prescribed by your physician, ibuprofen comes with instructions that are not to be ignored.

Here’s how often you can take ibuprofen, in general

While ibuprofen is a familiar medication, it’s important to adhere to safe dosage limits. The highest single dose of ibuprofen that’s available is generally 800 milligrams, though a dosage of 400 milligrams or more will likely require a prescription—and you should not administer a dosage at this level (or higher) to yourself without your doctor’s guidance.

Experts say you should not exceed 3200 milligrams of ibuprofen in one day, and each single dose needs to spaced out across several hours. Your doctor will have specific guidance.

If you find yourself reaching for ibuprofen rather regularly, particularly if your usage extends beyond a week, Robert Paisley, MD, cardiac electrophysiologist and general cardiologist with the Texas Heart Institute, recommends reducing your daily intake to 2400 milligrams. Note he also stresses the importance of consulting with your doctor to determine the lowest effective dose for your pain.

The Mayo Clinic provides ibuprofen dosage guidelines for specific types of pain:

  • For period cramps, they suggest 400 milligrams every four hours.
  • The 400-milligram dosage also works for general pain relief and should be spaced out across a four- to six-hour window.
  • If you’re managing arthritis pain, the daily dosage can vary from 1200 to 3200 milligrams, divided across multiple doses.

Note: Exercise caution and do not mix ibuprofen with other NSAIDs, such as naproxen (like Aleve) or ketorolac. (Acetaminophen, like Tylenol, is not an NSAID but should only be rotated in with ibuprofen under the supervision of a licensed doctor. Always check with a healthcare professional before combining pain medications.)

Since these medications are available over the counter, it’s easy to accidentally overmedicate—which can be very dangerous and in some cases, fatal.

This OTC Medicine Linked to 20% Higher Anemia Risk in Seniors, Says Research

Ibuprofen side effects

When taken in large doses or over long periods, ibuprofen can bring along some less-than-welcome side effects, such as kidney problems or stomach ulcers. These issues are especially important to watch out for if you already have health conditions or if you’re pairing ibuprofen with other medications. Some of these symptoms can include unusual abdominal pain and changes in your bathroom habits.

Cardiologists also give a heads-up: While it can be helpful, ibuprofen can sometimes raise blood pressure and increase the chances of heart-related complications.

Here’s How Often You Should Actually Take Your Blood Pressure, According to a Cardiologist

Ibuprofen alternatives

If you’re noticing that ibuprofen has become a bit of a regular in your day-to-day life, it might be time to look at other ways to manage discomfort. There are plenty of pain relief paths that don’t involve medication. For instance, physical therapy or acupuncture can be effective alternatives, offering relief by getting to the root of the pain.

Also, don’t underestimate the power of a good diet. Tweaking what you eat to include more anti-inflammatory foods could make a noticeable difference in managing chronic pain.

When it comes to ongoing pain, it’s wise to get advice from a healthcare provider. Relying solely on drugs like ibuprofen can sometimes obscure an underlying issue that needs professional attention. For example, Dr. Paisley cautions that recurring headaches deserve a closer look, as they might signal something more serious than just daily stress.

And while it can be a quick fix for issues like back pain (which can also be a sign of a larger problem if it’s ongoing), ibuprofen is not a long-term strategy. Building regular physical activity into your routine and stretching can do wonders—not just for your pain, but for your overall sense of well-being, too.

For more wellness updates, subscribe to The Healthy @Reader’s Digest newsletter and follow The Healthy on Facebook and Instagram. Keep reading: