As 2015 came to a close, researchers at the University of Warwick in the UK announced a breakthrough treatment for pain: an ibuprofen patch.

Patches are not a new treatment in and of themselves, but this patch has significant differences that make it a more promising for treatment of both acute and chronic pain. The ground-breaking ibuprofen patch may offer pain patients a safer, more effective way to manage pain with a lower risk of dangerous side effects that could revolutionize the manner in which many pain conditions are treated.

The ibuprofen patch is similar to its predecessors (over-the-counter treatments like Icy Hot and smoking cessation patches) in that it is meant to deliver a transdermal dose of medication, but that’s where the similarities end.

Key features of this patch include:

  • New technology: Medherent partnered with the University of Warwick to create a highly tacky adhesive that allows the patch to be worn continuously for 12 hours.
  • Higher dose of medicine: The ibuprofen patch is up to 30% ibuprofen, delivering a steady, consistent, and effective dose over 12 hours. This patch offers more pain relief when compared to ibuprofen gels because the user does not have to worry about re-application. With a gel, there is always the possibility of not applying enough for pain relief. The ibuprofen patch makes multiple applications obsolete by consistently delivering five to ten times the amount of ibuprofen previously available in gels over a prolonged period of time.
  • Cosmetic considerations: The patch is transparent, which makes it less conspicuous. For some pain patients, this can be an important consideration for their privacy and comfort.

University of Warwick research chemist Professor David Haddleton believes that these three key features are the reason this ibuprofen patch is so effective and revolutionary:

“Many commercial patches surprisingly don’t contain any pain relief agents at all, they simply soothe the body by a warming effect. Our technology now means that we can for the first time produce patches that contain effective doses of active ingredients such as ibuprofen for which no patches currently exist.”

The ibuprofen patch works very simply. Patients place the patch directly on the affected area (e.g., low back, shoulder, etc.). Transdermal medication delivery has a long history of effectiveness, all the way back to mustard plasters for chest congestion. In general, a transdermal delivery system offers more consistent dosages with higher bioavailability. This means that the body is better able to utilize whatever medication is being delivered at a steadier rate.

Other advantages to the ibuprofen patch are more significant. High doses of ibuprofen over long periods of time have been shown to cause life-threatening side effects. A drug safety review conducted by Health Canada found that a prescription-level dose of ibuprofen (2400 mg or higher daily) was tied to an increased risk of stroke and heart attack, especially for patients who have additional risk factors for those two conditions.

The risk of heart attack and stroke are added to the more common side effect of gastrointestinal issues, some of which can be caused by even small, over-the-counter levels of ibuprofen.

A small study looked at the effects of the common practice of athletes who take ibuprofen before and after exertion to protect from inflammation. Nine healthy men were recruited to have their blood tested four times a year after taking 400 milligrams of ibuprofen the evening before and the morning of an hour spent riding a bike. Researchers were looking for markers that indicated a rise in protein levels, signaling intestinal leakage. All men had increased levels indicating intestinal leakage after taking ibuprofen and riding the bike, levels that remained high for hours after the test.

Dr. Kim van Wijck, a surgical resident at Orbis Medical Center in the Netherlands and lead researcher of the study, noted that with regular low doses of ibuprofen, “intestinal integrity might be compromised,” resulting in leaks in the intestinal lining that result not only in bacteria in the bloodstream but also poor nutritional absorption.

Another study of endurance runners participating in 100-mile runs found small amounts of colonic bacteria in the blood of those runners who regularly took ibuprofen before, during, and after training runs.

Dr. van Wijck noted that the results of her study (and the one above) were not necessarily conclusive but that the potential harm of taking ibuprofen orally in this manner may outweigh the good for athletes, saying:

“We do not yet know what the long-term consequences are [of combining exercise and ibuprofen, but] ibuprofen consumption by athletes is not harmless and should be strongly discouraged.”

For pain patients, the ibuprofen patch removes the risks of even higher doses of ibuprofen and offers a targeted approach to pain management. Because it is transdermal and applied directly to the painful area, the ibuprofen patch’s risk of side effects is small. The most common side effect of transdermal medications is irritation at the site of application. For patients with poor blood circulation, transdermal medication may not be the best method of delivery.

Still, the potential of the ibuprofen patch to minimize serious side effects related to high-dose ibuprofen makes this ground-breaking patch an important pain treatment breakthrough. Nigel Davis CEO of Medherant, looks forward to what these ibuprofen patches could mean for pain patients, saying:

“[O]ur patches provide a better experience for patients, enhance safety and deliver increased efficacy, which will lead to economic benefits to the healthcare system. Our first products will be over-the-counter pain relief patches and through partnering we would expect to have the first of those products on the market in around [two] years.”

Will you give these ibuprofen patches a try for your pain?


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