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Is it safe to mix ibuprofen and caffeine?

If you’re looking for better pain relief, this combo may work—if done properly

Most people can’t go without their daily dose of caffeine—a brain and nervous system stimulant that increases energy levels and alertness. Studies suggest that about 85% of Americans consume caffeine every day. Although coffee is the majority of people’s go-to, other sources of caffeine include tea, soda, chocolate, and energy drinks.

But, if you take ibuprofen for pain relief, you may wonder whether you can still have your daily dose of caffeine. Is it safe when ibuprofen is combined with caffeine? Does caffeine affect the efficacy of the pain medicine? In this article, we asked healthcare professionals to answer your questions.

What is Ibuprofen?

Ibuprofen belongs to a class of medications called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) that are available both with and without a prescription, depending on the drug and strength. Over-the-counter ibuprofen (also known as the brand names Advil and Motrin) treats fever and relieves short-term pain from headaches, muscle aches, toothaches, backaches, and menstrual cramps. Healthcare providers may prescribe higher-dose ibuprofen for long-term management of conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, and severe menstrual cramps. This medicine works by lowering the levels of prostaglandins, hormone-like substances that cause pain and inflammation. Ibuprofen does not contain caffeine.

RELATED: Ibuprofen side effects and how to avoid them

Does caffeine interact with ibuprofen?

Evidence suggests that combining ibuprofen and caffeine provides greater pain relief than taking either alone. 

“A couple of studies have shown that combining ibuprofen with caffeine relieves tension-type headaches,” says Kevin Huffman, DO, a board-certified bariatric physician in Ohio. “One study, in particular, found that a single 200 mg dose of ibuprofen taken with 100 mg of caffeine provided effective pain relief for 6 in 10 people, compared to just 1 in 10 in the placebo group. No adverse effects were witnessed with the combination.” 

However, Dr. Huffman warns that because researchers are yet to uncover potential interactions between caffeine and ibuprofen, it doesn’t mean that adverse reactions don’t exist. He recommends using the lowest effective dose of ibuprofen for the shortest time possible to reduce your risk of side effects.  

“When mixing ibuprofen and caffeine, available research shows that a single pill of ibuprofen (200 mg) plus 100 mg of caffeine is sufficient to provide effective pain relief in most people,” Dr. Huffman says. 

Can you take ibuprofen and drink coffee?

When you are taking ibuprofen with coffee, specifically, keep in mind that both can trigger stomach upset. 

“NSAIDs like ibuprofen tend to cause gastrointestinal (GI) issues, especially when taken on an empty stomach; always take it with food,” says Andrew Newhouse, Pharm.D., the director of clinical pharmacy at Sedgwick. “Caffeine is also known to cause GI issues. If you have ever experienced GI discomfort with either caffeine or ibuprofen, it is best to take ibuprofen either two hours before or after consuming coffee.”

Does caffeine interact with other NSAIDs differently?

According to Dr. Newhouse, caffeine affects most NSAIDs the same way it affects ibuprofen. “Caffeine can interfere with how NSAIDs are broken down in the body, resulting in slightly higher concentrations than if the medication was taken without caffeine,” he says.

RELATED: How caffeine can help with pain relief

How does caffeine affect the body?

Besides its stimulating effects on the nervous system, caffeine affects your body in other ways. It increases urine production because of its diuretic properties, and it increases the release of gastric acid in the stomach, which is a risk factor for heartburn and stomach upset. Caffeine also reduces calcium absorption.

What’s more, it increases heart rate, and this particular effect of caffeine has been the subject of many discussions on whether it is safe for the heart, especially for coffee lovers. Three out of 4 Americans drink coffee daily, and coffee is the primary source of caffeine for those who consume it every day.

Fortunately, the American College of Cardiology stated in 2022 that despite quickening your heart rate, coffee is not only safe, but it may also have protective effects on the heart. In one of the studies mentioned to support the statement, researchers followed 382,535 people without heart disease for 10 years, determining that two to three cups of daily coffee was linked to a 10% to 15% reduced risk of heart disease. They also observed a lower risk of stroke in people who drank a cup of coffee daily.

In another sizeable longitudinal study referenced in the statement—this one on people who already had heart disease—two to three cups of daily coffee was associated with a lower risk of death, suggesting that moderate coffee intake may be heart-healthy.

Nevertheless, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends keeping your caffeine limit to 400 mg daily, or four to five cups of coffee (an 8-ounce cup of coffee contains 80-100 mg of caffeine). Side effects of too much caffeine include agitation, severe anxiety, increased blood pressure, and irregular/increased heartbeats—although these effects occur primarily in people who misuse caffeine tablets or liquid supplements.

Does caffeine affect fever or inflammation? 

Generally, consuming moderate amounts of caffeine (two to three 8-ounce cups of coffee or equivalent) when sick with a cold is safe, says Kathryn Brandt, DO, chair of primary care at the University of New England College of Medicine in Maine.

But, if you have diarrhea or vomiting as symptoms of your condition, it is recommended to avoid coffee. According to Dr. Huffman, coffee will worsen the dehydration you’re experiencing already.

As for inflammation, Dr. Brandt says there is some research showing that caffeine may affect inflammation, but not at the level that would mount a response to an infection. However, she adds that the literature is not clear on long-term effects of caffeine on the general inflammatory state.

Best practices for taking ibuprofen

Ibuprofen comes in different forms, including tablets, capsules, and liquid, and should only be used as recommended on the medication label or as directed by your pharmacist or healthcare provider. Listed below are common guidelines for ibuprofen.

Dosage: The suggested dosage of OTC-strength ibuprofen for adults is one or two 200 mg tablets three times a day, taken with food or a glass of milk to avoid stomach upset.

Over-the-counter use: If you’re taking ibuprofen without a prescription, Dr. Brandt says it should only be used short-term as advised on the label. “You must work with your healthcare provider if you need it for longer than a couple weeks or at higher doses,” she says. This minimizes the risk of side effects, such as heart attack or stroke—as well as ulcers, bleeding, and/or holes in the esophagus or stomach.

High-risk patients: Some people should only take ibuprofen under the supervision of their healthcare provider or pharmacist. Dr. Newhouse says, “these groups include patients with heart disease or known risk factors for heart disease like hypertension or a recent heart attack, a history of allergic reaction or hypersensitivity to ibuprofen, a current or recent stomach ulcer, severe liver diseases, kidney disease or those on dialysis, and pregnant patients.”

Drug interactions: Inform your healthcare provider when taking any medication alongside ibuprofen, as it interacts with certain drugs, such as blood thinners, antidepressants, and blood pressure medications.

Side effects: Watch out for side effects like bloating, constipation, nausea, ear ringing, headache, dizziness, and unexplained weight gain. And inform your healthcare provider if you notice any of these symptoms.

RELATED: How to reduce inflammation in the body fast

The bottom line: How to mix ibuprofen and caffeine safely

Combining caffeine and ibuprofen enhances the painkiller’s effectiveness and is generally considered safe. But how your body handles the mix may vary, so when you’re not feeling well and take an ibuprofen or two, it’s a good idea to keep your caffeine intake within the limits of 100 mg, which is equivalent to a cup of coffee. If you notice any adverse side effects, report them to your healthcare provider.