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How Does Ibuprofen Work?

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Dr. Stewart Adams spent five years experimenting with different chemical compounds in order to come up with a non-steroid alternative to treat rheumatoid arthritis. As he toiled away in the 1950s alongside his colleague, John Nicholson, in the UK, the compounds they found the most interesting were actually made of the weed killer they used in the Boots agricultural department. They looked at hundreds of samples and chose the best to send to clinical trial, without any luck finding an active ingredient to treat arthritis.

After a few alterations, the duo created new compounds that increased their confidence. Eventually, they got it right and patented the medication in January 1961.

The way ibuprofen works is a medical mystery, but it is known that the drug stops the release of cyclooxygenase, an enzyme that is responsible for making prostaglandins, which are essentially the body’s pain receptors. A simpler way of explaining how ibuprofen works is that it reduces the hormones that cause inflammation and pain in your body.

The body reacts to ibuprofen in two ways: it dulls achiness shortly after it’s taken, but the anti-inflammatory part of the medicine can take up to several weeks. It is used on patients during surgeries to relieve pain without completely sedating the patient. The medicine, which is among pain relievers and anti-inflammatories on the World Health Organization’s “Essential Drugs List,” can also protect patients from blood clots.

The dosage is different for each situation and varies from children to adults. For example, women who have menstrual cramps should take 200 to 400 milligrams every four to six hours, while adults with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis should start with an initial dose of 400 to 800 milligrams every six to eight hours and then increase to a daily dose not more than 3200 milligrams. A lot of people take ibuprofen for headaches, but more than 400 milligrams hasn’t been shown to be any more effective than one or two pills. For children, the recommended dose in babies aged 6 months up to 11 years is 10 milligrams every six to eight hours for pain. Ibuprofen is also used to treat pain in pediatric rheumatoid arthritis, cystic fibrosis, and patent ductus arteriosus. This is a condition where the two blood vessels that let blood flow around the baby’s lungs while in the uterus does not close.

Because all pills travel through the small intestine into the liver and then dissolve into the bloodstream to take effect, ibuprofen will treat all the pain in your body, not just your sprained ankle. Minnesota pharmacist Allyson Schlichte said the body and medication is similar to a lock and key system. “The medicine is like the key,” she said. “It searches all over the body until it finds the locks that it fits into.” This is also the reason why medications like ibuprofen have so many side effects. “That drug doesn’t know where to go – so it’s working where it shouldn’t,” she said.

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