What Is the Difference between Diclofenac and Ibuprofen?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Some differences between diclofenac and ibuprofen are that the two drugs derive from separate chemicals and possess discrete molecular structures. The medications also come in a variety of tablet or liquid strengths and aren’t equivalent to each other, milligram for milligram. In most regions people don’t need a prescription for low-dose ibuprofen, but they do need one for diclofenac and higher doses of ibuprofen. On the other hand, diclofenac and ibuprofen have many noted similarities, including that they are both non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), frequently used to treat arthritis and other pain conditions, and are likely to share side effects and important drug warnings.

In most regions, a prescription is needed for diclofenac.
In most regions, a prescription is needed for diclofenac.

There are numerous types of NSAIDs, which may be classified by the chemicals from which they derive. Diclofenac is a derivative of acetic acid. Conversely, ibuprofen is created from propionic acid.

Diclofenac and ibuprofen are also set apart by their molecular structures. Ibuprofen is what is known as a chiral, which means its mirror image cannot superimpose over the original molecule. A good analogy for this structural relationship would be human hands; each is a chiral for the other. In contrast, diclofenac doesn’t have a non-superimposable mirror image, which differentiates it from ibuprofen and most other NSAIDs.

Ibuprofen and diclofenac both may be taken for menstrual pain.
Ibuprofen and diclofenac both may be taken for menstrual pain.

Another way to compare NSAIDs is by evaluating their strength. Milligram for milligram, diclofenac is stronger than ibuprofen. It’s important to point out that when the drugs are administered in equivalent doses, however, both work equally well.

A big difference between diclofenac and ibuprofen is that people can buy ibuprofen over the counter in 200 milligram (mg) pills or in a variety of strengths in elixirs and combination drugs. These lower-dose versions are good for minor pain, but may not always address more significant discomfort. Physicians have the option of prescribing higher dose strengths of ibuprofen, if it is warranted. In almost all cases, people can’t get diclofenac of any strength without a prescription.

Both diclofenac and ibuprofen are used to treat arthritis pain, but diclofenac is derived from acidic acid, and ibuprofen comes from propionic acid.
Both diclofenac and ibuprofen are used to treat arthritis pain, but diclofenac is derived from acidic acid, and ibuprofen comes from propionic acid.

The dissimilarities between diclofenac and ibuprofen are somewhat outweighed by the two medications’ likenesses. As stated, both are equally effective when given in equivalent doses, and they are NSAIDs, possessing anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and fever-reducing benefits. A patient might take either of these medicines for arthritis, extreme menstrual pain, dental discomfort, or injury.

Diclofenac and ibuprofen are both pain relievers with fever-reducing properties.
Diclofenac and ibuprofen are both pain relievers with fever-reducing properties.

In side effects, diclofenac and ibuprofen are also closely linked. The two drugs tend to risk stomach upset and rash, and may each cause serious allergy. Important warnings for both medications are that chronic use may precipitate sudden heart attacks or severe gastrointestinal ulceration and bleeding. Recently, diclofenac has also been associated with a higher risk of sudden stroke, and this warning does not, as yet, apply to ibuprofen.

Ibuprofen pills can be purchased over the counter in a variety of different dosages.
Ibuprofen pills can be purchased over the counter in a variety of different dosages.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

anon997418

I have nerve pain and just misc achiness and take two or three ibuprofen every four hours. My doctor told me to stop and take Diclofenac 75 mg twice a day. I actually feel worse. Plus because it is twice a day with breakfast and dinner, I now have this big gap of time during the day where I am taking nothing.

anon990338

In my last comment I forgot to add that I really appreciate this comparison article. If this is typical of wiseGeek content, bravo.

anon990337

Actually, ibuprofen is slightly weaker than diclofenac. While diclofenac is given in smaller doses than ibuprofen, diclofenac has a modestly stronger effect than ibuprofen when given in equivalent (not equal) doses.

anon944864

Ibuprofen reduces fever and has an effect on the whole body. Diclofenac, on the other hand, is specifically meant for joint pain.

anon319500

It is a powerful and amazing article but we should agree that Ibuprofen is the safest NSAID as per the Henry meta analysis study and more potent than Diclofenac. I mean that both have serious side effects but Ibuprofen is safer than Diclofenac.

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    • In most regions, a prescription is needed for diclofenac.
      In most regions, a prescription is needed for diclofenac.
    • Ibuprofen and diclofenac both may be taken for menstrual pain.
      Ibuprofen and diclofenac both may be taken for menstrual pain.
    • Both diclofenac and ibuprofen are used to treat arthritis pain, but diclofenac is derived from acidic acid, and ibuprofen comes from propionic acid.
      Both diclofenac and ibuprofen are used to treat arthritis pain, but diclofenac is derived from acidic acid, and ibuprofen comes from propionic acid.
    • Diclofenac and ibuprofen are both pain relievers with fever-reducing properties.
      Diclofenac and ibuprofen are both pain relievers with fever-reducing properties.
    • Ibuprofen pills can be purchased over the counter in a variety of different dosages.
      Ibuprofen pills can be purchased over the counter in a variety of different dosages.