What Really Happens When You Take Ibuprofen On An Empty Stomach

If you've ever had a bad headache, aching muscles, or even a fever, you've probably reached for ibuprofen to relieve your pain. It's a tried and true medication that's trusted by doctors to soothe inflammation. It affects each person differently, but one of the most commonly held beliefs about the drug is that it should not be taken without food. But is that really true?

Like most medications, ibuprofen comes with its own set of risks and side effects. By stopping the activity of COX enzymes, the medicine effectively keeps the body from producing prostaglandin, which reduces inflammation and pain (via Healthline). COX enzymes not only help with the relief of symptoms, but they also help to protect the lining of the stomach. When medications like ibuprofen block COX enzymes, they also leave the stomach more vulnerable to irritation. Ibuprofen can also cause stomach-related side effects like heartburn, bloating, and even ulcers. Side effects truly depend on the individual and any health conditions they may already have.

Consider this before eating

So should you eat something beforehand to decrease the risk of stomach irritation or gastrointestinal distress, or should you take the medicine on an empty stomach? Most people take ibuprofen for fast pain relief, but eating before taking the medicine slows its absorption into the bloodstream significantly. One study even found that eating before taking medications like ibuprofen led to more damage in the small intestine (via theĀ Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology).

If you are at risk of developing peptic ulcers from the use of ibuprofen, experts recommend first taking a drug called a Proton Pump Inhibitor (PPI) (via Australian Prescriber). For people at low risk of side effects, taking something that contains magnesium to absorb excess stomach acid should afford protection while allowing the pain reliever to do its job quickly (via Healthline). So if you need to pop an ibuprofen to kick that nasty headache fast, no need to wait until you're able eat something with it.