Ibuprofen belongs to a group of medicines called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). It is used to ease mild to moderate pain such as toothache, migraines and period pain. Also, it can reduce high temperatures, ease pain and swelling caused by sprains and strains, and reduce the pain and inflammation caused by arthritis and other conditions.
The original brand name of ibuprofen made by Boots was Brufen but it is now made by a number of manufacturers as the patent has expired.
Ibuprofen works by acting on a group of compounds called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are sometimes called local hormones because they act close to where they are produced rather than all over the body. They have a remarkably wide range of effects. One of their actions is to cause inflammation.
When a part of the body is injured, protective mechanisms go into action. White blood cells accumulate at the site of the injury, and this causes swelling, heat, redness, loss of function, fever and pain - together called inflammation.
All these effects are potentially beneficial. Swelling can help to immobilise (keep still) injured joints, heat and increased blood flow promote healing and pain alerts the injured person that there is a problem. However, they can often be too much of a good thing - once we know we are injured, the pain no longer has a function and we wish to be rid if it. Often we find that the inflammatory response is too powerful and can do more harm than good.
Ibuprofen’s action as a painkiller and antipyretic (fever-reducing) compound is due to its ability to inhibit the synthesis of prostaglandins. It does this by interfering with the action of an enzyme called cyclo-oxygenase (COX) which catalyses (speeds up) the conversion of a compound called arachidonic acid into prostaglandins. Aspirin and other NSAIDs work in a similar way.