Can people with celiac have ibuprofen?

Ibuprofen is a common over-the-counter medication used to relieve pain, fever, and inflammation. It belongs to a class of drugs called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). While ibuprofen is generally considered safe for most people when taken as directed, some individuals with certain medical conditions need to exercise caution with its use. One such condition is celiac disease.

What is celiac disease?

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes damage to the small intestine when gluten is ingested. Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. In individuals with celiac disease, the immune system reacts to gluten and attacks the lining of the small intestine. This damages the villi, which are small finger-like projections that line the intestine and absorb nutrients from food. When the villi become damaged, the intestine is not able to properly absorb nutrients which can lead to symptoms like diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating, weight loss, fatigue, and anemia. Celiac disease is estimated to affect around 1% of people worldwide.

Causes and risk factors

Experts are not entirely sure what triggers celiac disease, but it is known to have a strong genetic component. Individuals who have certain HLA genes, specifically HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8 genes, are at a higher risk of developing celiac disease. However, only about 30-40% of people with these genes go on to develop celiac disease, meaning other factors like environmental exposures early in life may also play a role.

In addition to genetic susceptibility, other risk factors for celiac disease include:

  • Having a first-degree relative with celiac disease
  • Being female
  • Having another autoimmune disorder like type 1 diabetes or autoimmune thyroiditis
  • Having certain genetic disorders like Down syndrome or Turner syndrome
  • Having intestinal infections or surgery


Celiac disease can be difficult to diagnose because it has a wide variety of signs and symptoms that differ from person to person. There are also some people who have celiac disease but do not have any noticeable symptoms. Common ways celiac disease is diagnosed include blood tests to look for certain antibodies, biopsy of the small intestine, and genetic testing for the HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8 genes. Often more than one test is needed to confirm the diagnosis.


The main treatment for celiac disease is adhering to a strict lifelong gluten-free diet. This allows the damaged intestine to heal and nutrients to be properly absorbed again. Gluten is found not only in grains like wheat, rye and barley, but can also be present in many processed foods, sauces, dressings, etc. Reading ingredient labels carefully and knowing all the possible sources of hidden gluten is key to managing celiac disease. Medications or supplements may also be prescribed by doctors to help control symptoms or treat nutritional deficiencies.

Is ibuprofen gluten-free?

The good news is that yes, ibuprofen itself is gluten-free. Ibuprofen is an active drug ingredient that does not contain any gluten. However, some ibuprofen tablet or capsule formulations may potentially contain gluten as an inactive ingredient. This is usually in the form of flour or starch derived from gluten-containing grains that are added as fillers, binders or flavor enhancers.

Inactive ingredients likely to contain gluten include:

  • Wheat starch
  • Barley malt
  • Maltodextrin
  • Dextrin
  • Modified food starch

To be safe, it is important for those with celiac disease to use ibuprofen products that are explicitly labeled as gluten-free. Call the manufacturer if you are unsure about the gluten content of a certain product.

Is it safe for people with celiac disease to take ibuprofen?

Based on available evidence, ibuprofen is generally considered safe for most people with celiac disease when a gluten-free formulation is used. However, there are a few factors those with celiac disease need to consider before taking ibuprofen.

1. Risk of gastrointestinal side effects

Like all NSAIDs, ibuprofen does come with a risk of causing gastrointestinal problems like ulcers, bleeding, and abdominal pain. This is because it works by inhibiting prostaglandins which help protect the stomach lining. Those with celiac disease already have inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract, so NSAIDs may exacerbate existing GI issues.

2. Possibility of small intestine damage

Some older research showed that NSAIDs like ibuprofen could have direct toxic effects on small intestinal cells based on animal and test tube studies. The implications of these findings for humans are still unclear. More research is needed to determine if occasional ibuprofen use has the potential to promote small intestine damage in celiac disease.

3. Interactions with celiac disease medications

Those with celiac disease who are taking certain prescription medications to manage symptoms or complications need to be aware of potential negative interactions with ibuprofen. For example, ibuprofen may increase the risk of kidney damage when taken with diabetic medications, or bleeding when taken with blood thinners like warfarin.

It is important to consult your pharmacist or doctor about potential ibuprofen drug interactions based on your personal health history and medications.

4. Risk of nutritional deficiencies

Untreated celiac disease often leads to vitamin and mineral deficiencies, especially iron deficiency anemia. NSAIDs like ibuprofen are known to potentially cause indigestion, nausea, and loss of appetite – side effects that can make it even harder to maintain proper nutrition with celiac disease. Those with nutritional deficiencies may need supplementation to help minimize this risk.

5. Increased inflammation

Some emerging research indicates that ibuprofen may increase levels of inflammatory cytokines and markers in those with celiac disease. More studies are needed to understand how relevant these findings are in the context of occasional pain relief use of ibuprofen.

Precautions if taking ibuprofen with celiac disease

If you decide to take ibuprofen for occasional pain or fever relief, there are some precautions those with celiac disease should take:

  • Always check that the product is labeled gluten-free
  • Start with the lowest effective dose
  • Do not exceed the maximum recommended dose
  • Take with food to minimize stomach upset
  • Stay well hydrated
  • Be aware of any worsened GI symptoms
  • Notify your doctor if you experience unusual side effects
  • Avoid long-term or frequent use if possible
  • Take a probiotic supplement to support gut health

Alternating ibuprofen with another over-the-counter pain medication like acetaminophen may also help reduce side effects.

Alternative pain medications

For those with celiac disease who want to avoid ibuprofen, there are some other medication options for pain relief:


Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is considered gluten-free and generally does not cause stomach irritation like NSAIDs. However it should not be taken by those with liver disease.


Aspirin is also gluten-free and provides anti-inflammatory effects. But it does carry a risk of stomach bleeding and GI upset like ibuprofen.

Migraine medications

Prescription migraine medications like sumatriptan (Imitrex) or anti-nausea drugs may be an option for those who get frequent headaches or migraines.

Skin creams

Creams containing menthol, capsaicin, or diclofenac can sometimes provide topical pain relief for muscle aches and arthritis.

Natural supplements

Some natural supplements like turmeric, ginger, boswellia, or willow bark have shown modest pain relieving effects in studies and may be tolerated by those with celiac disease. However the quality of supplements can vary widely.

Warm/cold therapy

Applying heating pads, ice packs, or warm baths can safely provide some symptom relief for certain types of inflammatory pain.

Talk to your doctor if over-the-counter medications are not giving enough pain relief. Prescription options like tramadol or low-dose steroids may be considered for short-term use if needed.

The bottom line

Most experts consider occasional use of ibuprofen to be generally safe for those with well-managed celiac disease, as long as a gluten-free product is used. However, people with celiac disease should use caution and be aware of factors that could increase the risks, especially those with uncontrolled disease or other health conditions.

Rather than self-medicating frequently with ibuprofen, it is advisable to have a physician knowledgeable about celiac disease periodically evaluate your persistent symptoms. They can make sure there are no complications of celiac disease contributing to pain and help find any appropriate alternative treatments or pain management approaches that may be safer and more effective long-term.

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