What Is the Difference between Naproxen and Ibuprofen?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: Jessica Seminara
  • Last Modified Date: 08 February 2019
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Naproxen and ibuprofen differ mainly in that they don’t always treat the same conditions, and in that they have dissimilar recommendations for dosage. The medications can also be distinguished by their adverse effects and the prevalence of certain reactions. On the other hand, they are also very similar; both are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) with comparable action and availability. These drugs also share some side effects and treatment indications in common.

A review of the similarities between these drugs can help better explain their differences. As NSAIDs, both medications reduce inflammation, relieve pain, and diminish fever. Each medicine also has similar availability. These drugs can be purchased over the counter or might be prescribed in higher strength formulas.

Moreover, naproxen and ibuprofen have similar mechanisms of action. They both act on and inhibit certain forms of an enzyme called cyclooxygenase (COX). Specifically, each drug slows down the production of COX1 and COX2, which reduces prostaglandin production in the body.

Either drug may be appropriate for use for certain conditions, like menstrual cramping or general pain. Both have some similar side effects, too, including stomach upset and a possibility of developing gastric ulcers.


One of the biggest differences between naproxen and ibuprofen concerns dosage of the medication. When people use an over-the-counter form of naproxen, they usually take 200-250 milligrams (mg) every eight to 12 hours. A comparable adult dose of ibuprofen is 400 mg every four to six hours. Dosage can vary based on the condition treated, but patients using naproxen will usually take much less of it because it is stronger, milligram for milligram, than ibuprofen.

While these medicines can share some treatment recommendations, there are medical conditions that are better addressed by one or the other. Naproxen is recommended for many forms of arthritis, gout, tendinitis, and bursitis. Ibuprofen is more appropriate for fever, headache, toothache and minor musculoskeletal injuries.

Though these drugs have side effects in common, they also have differences. First, they share some risk of developing gastric ulcers, but this risk isn’t equal. Naproxen is more likely to create this concerning side effect, and it may also generate a higher risk of birth defects. Comparatively, ibuprofen is associated with a greater incidence of headaches and stomach pain.

The similarities between naproxen and ibuprofen can make it difficult to choose the best medication. Since both drugs carry the risk of side effects, especially if they are used regularly, patients should seek guidance on which one is most appropriate. Particularly, anyone planning to take either drug on a daily basis should make sure that a medical professional watches for any of the more dangerous reactions that might occur with frequent use.


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