Is Taking Ibuprofen on an Empty Stomach That Bad For You? Doctors Weigh In

We’ve been there: a bad headache hits and we’re apt to reach for some meds — only to remember we haven’t eaten anything recently. But can you take Advil on an empty stomach?

Stomach upset is among the most commonly reported side effects of Advil or Motrin, otherwise known as ibuprofen. That’s why “the FDA advises ibuprofen be taken with food or milk in patients who have experienced stomach upset with this medication in the past,” Joshua Russell, MD at Legacy-GoHealth Urgent Care, says.

Ibuprofen, similar to aspirin and naproxen (among other medications), is a type of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). “These medications can seriously damage the lining of the stomach,” Dr. Russell says. However, the benefits of OTC or prescribed medications often outweigh the possible side effects, and some doctors think it’s not even something we should really worry about depending on the frequency of use.

POPSUGAR spoke with health experts to better understand the dangers of taking ibuprofen on an empty stomach, if any, and the benefits of waiting to take medication until after you’ve eaten.

Can You Take Ibuprofen on an Empty Stomach?

Taking ibuprofen, like Advil or Motrin, for the occasional headache without food is generally well-tolerated in otherwise healthy people with a low risk of side effects. It “may make you feel a bit queasy from direct irritation, but the bigger concern is when people are taking bigger doses,” Jill Grimes, MD, college health expert and author of “The Ultimate College Student Health Handbook,” says.

Long-term use of ibuprofen (think: multiple times per day for more than a week) carries substantial risk of kidney damage and stomach ulcers/intestinal bleeding. “Ibuprofen decreases prostaglandin production, and one role of prostaglandin is to help lower stomach acid and increase production of protective stomach mucus,” Dr. Grimes explains. “So as early as about a week, the ibuprofen can potentially cause gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining) or even an ulcer (a hole in the lining).”

Can Food Reduce Stomach-Pain Side Effects?

It has long been believed that food can help “cushion” the stomach from negative side effects when taking ibruprofen, however, evidence of this has been largely anecdotal. “That being said, if you experience mild stomach upset when taking ibuprofen or other NSAIDs, it is worth trying to take the medication on a full stomach to see if it helps reduce discomfort,” Dr. Russell advises.

Dr. Grimes recommends “a small amount of food that includes fat or protein (which is digested more slowly), like a few slices of an apple with some peanut butter, or cheese and crackers.”

Also note that “having food in your stomach decreases the direct irritation but is not truly protection from the actions of ibuprofen on prostaglandins,” Dr. Grimes says. Food or no food, long-term regular usage of ibuprofen can result in serious side effects.

If you’re experiencing a new, painful condition, it is always wisest to discuss your symptoms with a healthcare provider rather than simply taking an over-the-counter pain medication, as pain may be a symptom of a more dangerous health condition.

— Additional reporting by Melanie Whyte


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