Student News

Molecule of the Week: Ibuprofen

communications – April 24, 2012

Go to the health center with a headache, muscle aches or a cold and chances are you will leave with some ibuprofen. But have you ever wondered why they give you the same medicine for your shin pain after running and for that fever you had winter term? Well, the answer lies somewhere in ibuprofen’s ability to inhibit inflammation. 

Unlike aspirin, which was patented since the late 19th century, ibuprofen was developed by a British research team called the Boots Group in the 1960s. Since then, ibuprofen has been marketed commercially as Advil and Motrin. Today, ibuprofen is the most commonly recommended over-the-counter drug for inflammation relief with sales exceeding one billion dollars annually. 

The reason ibuprofen has been so successful in the past half-century lies in its ability to lie in the active sites of enzymes called cyclooxygenases or COX. These enzymes are responsible for the production of prostaglandins, the molecules linked to inflammation in the body. Because of its chemical structure and effective ability as an anti-inflammatory, ibuprofen is classified as a NSAID, or a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory.

As well as being a NSAID, ibuprofen is also classified as an analgesic, or non-sedative pain reducer, and an antipyretic, or fever reducer. While pain and fever have a complicated and diverse range of causes, the prostaglandins linked to ibuprofen’s inhibition of COX have been correlated to both pain and fever. Considering all of this, it’s not hard to see why ibuprofen has been a staple in health centers around the country.

Despite all of the good ibuprofen does, be warned: it does come with side effects. These particular effects range from mild (dizziness, stomachache, nausea, or heartburn) to severe (chest pain, confusion or an anaphylactic response in some cases). Even worse, a daily dose of ibuprofen has been recently linked to heart attacks in some patients. Despite all of its good, daily ibuprofen dosing should never exceed 800 mg or side effects ranging from blurred vision to tachycardia may result.

Reports on annual ibuprofen sales vary. Read more about this estimation.

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