Two Female Runners Finishing Race Together

Marathon runners might be tempted to take ibuprofen or a similar NSAID before they start a long race. But evidence is accumulating that such anti-inflammatory pain relievers may increase the risk of kidney damage.

Ultra Marathon Runners Test Effects of Ibuprofen:

Researchers tested runners’ kidney function at the beginning and end of a 50 mile race. The 89 elite athletes were randomly assigned 400 mg of ibuprofen or placebo.

Kidney Injury Post Race:

Just over half of those taking ibuprofen developed acute kidney injury. In comparison, about a third of those taking the placebo pill showed signs of kidney harm. This supports previous studies showing that NSAID use by endurance athletes can alter kidney function.

Lipman et al, Emergency Medicine Journal, online July 5, 2017 

Previous Research on Marathon Runners:

One of those previous studies showed that taking OTC anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin or ibuprofen can have negative consequences. Unlike the current study, however, the previous study did not assign the athletes randomly to take a pain reliever or not.

Investigators surveyed 4,000 participants in the Bonn Marathon of 2010 and discovered that those who took painkillers were more likely to have to drop out because of stomach cramps or muscle cramps. Those who dosed up prior to starting the race were five times more likely to experience symptoms such as digestive distress, blood in the urine and cardiovascular problems.

Preventive Ibuprofen Linked to Kidney Problems:

A few runners who had taken ibuprofen preventively landed in the hospital with temporary kidney failure. None of the runners responding to the survey said they were aware of any risks associated with pain relievers and endurance sports.

Küster et al, BMJ Open, April 19, 2013

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  1. Janice

    In graduate school for nutrition at the School of Public Health at UNC a professor had worked in a dialysis center and told us of the mill workers who would pop Goody’s powders and Coke for headaches, aches and pains. They suffered permanent kidney damage and were on dialysis. They termed it “mill worker renal failure.” Since Goody’s powders contain acetaminophen and aspirin and caffeine in a powder form it was assumed this quickly absorbed version was the culprit. Your article poses the question: is it the dehydration that forces the substances into the kidneys faster without being flushed out, or did the athletes also consume caffeine which was hypothesized to exacerbate the kidney damage?

  2. Douglas

    Hi, Joe and Terri I greatly enjoy your email, newspaper, and radio offerings. You’ve made it clear how dangerous the use of NSAID’s is. I am especially sensitive to this drug because of impaired kidney function. My doctor prescribed diclofenac gel for a muscle injury. Am I absorbing enough of this product to be harmful?

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