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Doctors Warn You Know This Before Taking Ibuprofen

Over-the-counter doesn’t necessarily mean safe.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Ibuprofen is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) commonly used to treat fever and pain, with no doctor's prescription needed. "People don't think of over-the-counter medicine as being medicine at all," says internist Janet Morgan, MD, "but it absolutely is medicine, and like anything else, it's potentially very dangerous." Here are five things doctors want you to know before taking Ibuprofen. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Ibuprofen Is a Blood Thinner

Woman Reading Pill Bottle Label

People taking blood thinners to prevent blood clots should avoid NSAIDS, doctors say. "These drugs, which are available over the counter and are used commonly to relieve the aches and pains that all of us have, are also blood thinners," says cardiologist Stephen G. Ellis, MD. "If you combine them with prescription blood thinners, you could have serious bleeding."


Kidney Injury

woman Having Spinal Or Kidney Pain

Athletes who regularly take NSAIDs are at an increased risk of serious kidney injuries, studies show. "If you are taking an NSAID regularly, you should be having regular blood monitoring, including measures of kidney function," says Robert H. Shmerling, MD. "And if you have significant kidney disease, you should probably avoid non-aspirin NSAIDs altogether. Ask your doctor whether you are a good candidate for NSAID use. They can be quite helpful, and many of their side effects can be avoided with proper precautions."

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Heart Attack and Stroke

Adult male with heart attack or heart burn

Chronic NSAID use can lead to heart attack and stroke, doctors warn. "Back in 2005, the FDA warned that taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and naproxen increased the risk of having a heart attack or stroke," says Gregory Curfman, MD. "In July 2015 the FDA took the unusual step of further strengthening this warning. This was done on the advice of an expert panel that reviewed additional information about NSAIDs and their risks. Because ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and naproxen (Aleve) are available over-the-counter and so widely used, it's important to be aware of the ibuprofen warnings and naproxen warnings and to take steps to limit the risk."

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Stomach Ulcers

young woman with stomach pain
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NSAIDs can cause serious gastrointestinal problems. "Gastrointestinal symptoms are the most common side effects of NSAIDs," says Theodore R. Fields, MD, FACP. "They are most likely to be stomach irritation and the sensations known as "heartburn" (which has nothing to do with your heart). In severe cases, NSAIDs can irritate the lining of your stomach so that an ulcer (a small erosion) forms. In the worst cases, such an erosion can lead to internal bleeding, which may be life-threatening. Perforation, meaning a 'hole' in the stomach, can also occur in rare cases. This is an urgent problem requiring prompt medical attention."

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How Much Ibuprofen Is Safe?

Woman is holding a mobile phone and a bottle of pills

Always talk to your doctor before deciding what the safe amount of ibuprofen is, especially if you have underlying health conditions such as high blood pressure or GI issues. "There's not really a one-size-fits-all answer," says Dr. Morgan. "It depends on your general state of health. It's not without risk, but you can feel pretty safe taking it for about three days. Take no more than 400 to 600 milligrams, three times a day, with food. Otherwise, it can ruin your stomach… It should never get to the point of everyday ibuprofen use. Issues like ongoing abdominal pain, chronic headaches and really serious aching of your muscles don't just go away on their own."

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan
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