Pain is part of the human condition. Sometimes it can be useful, warning us to keep our hands away from flames and sharp tools. Recurrent or chronic pain is not helpful, but it can be extremely difficult to treat. Many people who experience arthritis, bursitis or regular headaches, for example, cope with their pain by taking ibuprofen.
We have written about serious side effects of NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). An article titled “Should We Ban Ibuprofen?” stirred up quite a lot of anger amongst our readers:
The Other Side Responds:
Q. Ibuprofen is the only pain medication that works to stop an absolutely debilitating pain that I get. Thankfully, it does not occur all of the time but when it hits, Advil works. I have tried aspirin and Tylenol, and neither works for me. I don’t know what I would do without it.
A. There are others who feel as you do that ibuprofen makes their lives bearable.
Jane in Erie, PA agrees:
“I don’t believe in banning NSAIDs or making them Rx only. People need to read, learn, and take responsibility for what they put in their mouths! I am a celiac patient and am not asking for a ban on gluten.
“Get a grip. I am sick of Big Brother telling us what we can and cannot take! Banning NSAIDs is ridiculous! Get educated, people!”
Klara in Atlanta:
“I agree with Jane from Erie PA. LEAVE IBUPROFEN ALONE! I don’t take NSAIDs on a regular basis, but I keep them around for occasional aches and muscle pain and they’re wonderful. I hate it when Big Brother takes a perfectly good OTC medicine away from us or makes us go through gatekeepers to get it. Don’t patronize us! Let everyone decide for himself whether to take it or not.”
We understand that people in pain deserve relief. NSAIDs can help with pain and inflammation. But these are not fabulous drugs. Dr. Steve Nissen, one of the country’s leading cardiologists, shared results from an arthritis study he and his colleagues conducted. They reported that ibuprofen, naproxen and celecoxib were only modestly effective, lowering pain about 13 points out of 100. That’s something, but hardly a home run.
Anyone who takes ibuprofen or other NSAIDs on a regular basis should be aware of the hazards. They include heart attacks, strokes, cardiac arrest, hypertension, atrial fibrillation, congestive heart failure, kidney damage, kidney disease, liver damage, blood disorders and serious digestive tract problems.
NSAIDs and Bleeding Ulcers:
One potentially life-threatening GI complication is bleeding ulcers. A reader wrote:
“Both my mother and my mother-in-law almost died because of ibuprofen. I told the ambulance driver I thought my mother was bleeding internally; she was! She almost died. Something similar happened to my mother-in-law.”
Greg the pharmacist in Toledo, Ohio, shared his perspective:
“I friend of mine recently ended up in the hospital with ulcers up and down his esophagus from taking high doses of OTC NSAIDs over several months.
“Some doctors question if NSAIDS might do damage to cartilage and stop healing over time.
“Unfortunately Rx to OTC moves are usually done to make money and are not in the best interest of the public.”
NSAIDs and Kidney Damage:
Bob in Chapel Hill, NC, had a different problem:
“I had to stop regular use of naproxen because of kidney damage. After 40 years of practice in orthopedic surgery and stopping the prescribing of butazolidin because it caused leukemia and a number of others because those NSAIDs caused heart attacks, I had to stop what I thought was ‘Safe’!”
The People’s Pharmacy Perspective:
NSAIDs can help ease pain and it is clear that many people rely on them regularly. We also know that some people end up with heart attacks, strokes and perforated ulcers and that such side effects can come on suddenly with little, if any, warning. We hope that consumers will use good sense when taking drugs like ibuprofen: using the lowest dose for the shortest period of time.
We posed a theoretical question in our last article and we would welcome your response:
“Imagine for a moment that a popular herb or dietary supplement was linked to heart attacks, strokes, kidney damage or perforated ulcers. The FDA would announce to the world that there was a deadly herb loose in the land. Public health warnings would make headlines and the feds would almost assuredly ban the product from health food store shelves.”
Why should there be a double standard for OTC drugs compared to herbs or dietary supplements?
To read more about ibuprofen and other NSAIDs and why people were so upset, here is a link to our previous article:
Please share your thoughts below in the comment section.