The Surprising Side Effects Of Taking Too Much Ibuprofen

It’s pretty safe to say that most of us believe over-the-counter medication, like ibuprofen, is safe to take for pain relief. As a rule of thumb, this rings true. Casually taking a recommended dosage of ibuprofen in the proper time span can be completely harmless and effective for its intended use.

The reality, though, is that ibuprofen is a drug. If you take it regularly—and take too much of it—it can cause some unfortunate side effects.

What Is Ibuprofen?

Ibuprofen (aka Advil, Motrin and medications in the same family) is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory, or NSAID, which is frequently used to treat inflammatory and painful conditions. According to Dr. Harrison Linder from the Center for Interventional Pain Medicine at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, NSAIDs are considered to be “one of the most commonly used classes of medications” in the world.

How Does It Work?

Dr. Linder says that ibuprofen and other NSAIDs achieve their pain-relieving effects “through the inhibition of an enzyme named cyclooxygenase (COX).” This COX enzyme is responsible for the production of different substances, like prostaglandins, prostacyclins and thromboxanes. These substances play an important role in normal cellular functions, but they can also cause inflammation and pain.

Simply put, using NSAIDs can be beneficial because they limit the production of these inflammatory or pain-causing substances. However, overuse of NSAIDs can lead to way more harm than good.

Ibuprofen Dependency Is Quite Common

You may think overuse of ibuprofen isn’t that common, but it’s quite the opposite.

It’s a handy medication to keep stashed in your car’s center console or in your purse, and apparently a lot of us are doing just that. Especially those of us who are extremely active throughout the day.

“Very often, individuals involved in large amounts of physical activity, either athletes or people with physically demanding occupations, will rely on ibuprofen or other NSAIDs as a way to limit daily aches and pains and allow continued function,” Dr. Linder notes.

If you are following the recommended dosages and usage guidelines, everything should be just fine. But if you are relying on ibuprofen too much, you could be putting your body at risk.

Image of woman taking medication.
(Image Point Fr / Shutterstock)

How Much Can You Take?

Dr. Linder says that the current recommendation for ibuprofen is to limit daily use to no more than 30 days. The dosage should range between 400 and 800 milligrams and should not be taken more than four times a day with a daily maximum of 3200 milligrams.

In other words, if you’ve been taking ibuprofen every day for more than a month, the cons will start to outweigh the pros of the medication. The same goes for taking more than 3200 milligrams of ibuprofen in a 24-hour period.

The Negatives Of Too Much Ibuprofen

When you take too much too often, you may develop poor stomach problems. This is because the medication can mess with prostaglandins, the chemical compound that protects your stomach and intestinal lining from the harmful effects of stomach acids that digest your food.

Without adequate prostaglandins, the acids can cause chronic irritation. All of that agitation can lead to ulcers in both the stomach and the intestines. Those ulcers can cause some serious abdominal pain. In the worst and rarest of cases, there is the potential for dangerous internal bleeding.

Heart Complications Are A Possibility

Long-term use and overuse of ibuprofen can also result in heart complications. Because the COX enzymes are involved in coagulation and hemostasis during your body’s response to injury or trauma, Dr. Linder says that patients who overuse ibuprofen can be at risk for increased or uncontrolled bleeding.

Excess ibuprofen can also lead to high blood pressure, which puts unnecessary strain on the heart.

Some Other Common Side Effects

But of course, even with casual use, some people can experience side effects from ibuprofen. However, if taken as directed, most side effects can be prevented by taking the medication with milk or food. The most common side effects include:

  • Heartburn
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Gas
  • Stomach Pain
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea

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