Girl with stomach ache sitting on bed, recurrent diarrhea

Americans love ibuprofen. Some athletes refer to it as vitamin I. That’s because this non steroidal anti-inflammatory drug can ease the pain and inflammation of of sore joints. Most people recognize that NSAIDs like ibuprofen or naproxen can be hard on the stomach. Gastritis, heartburn or even ulcers are recognized adverse reactions. But relatively few people realize that ibuprofen side effects can include atrial fibrillation (AFib) and other serious cardiovascular complications. This reader shared his unpleasant experience:

Q. For over three years, I suffered bouts of extreme diarrhea. At times I couldn’t even leave the house because it was so bad.

Finally in 2016, I went to a gastroenterologist. A colonoscopy showed I had collagenous colitis. The doctor said there was a good chance it was caused by the ibuprofen I had been taking for osteoarthritis. I stopped ibuprofen and have had no bouts of diarrhea since.

I have also been free of the episodic bouts of atrial fibrillation that had started in 2005. My blood pressure has dropped to around 115/70 as well. Ibuprofen is a good pain reliever, but the side effects are dangerous.

A. You are right that ibuprofen can have serious and sometimes unrecognized side effects. In addition to digestive tract inflammation, users may experience cardiovascular events (hypertension, AFib) and kidney complications.

Here are some other reports of ibuprofen side effects from visitors to this website:

Amy in Portland, OR did not anticipate this:

“I had to stop taking recommended doses of ibuprofen, because my kidneys were basically one step from failure according to lab tests. My doctor told me to quit taking the ibuprofen and any related OTC drugs.

“No problems since. I have been taking aspirin since then, but have also discovered a curcumin and boswelia based supplement called Curamin which for me is surprisingly effective for arthritis pain.”

Tanya in Indiana also had serious ibuprofen side effects:

“I’ve been on prescription pain killers for 10 years as a result of a failed lumbar fusion due to degenerative disc disease. After being on NSAIDs several times a day every day for about 3 years I developed liver disease.

“The doc said it was thru no fault of my own. So, then I was prescribed opioids for breakthrough pain.That remained unchanged for the last 4 years. I was at a dose that worked. I also have polymyalgia rheumatica, fibromyalgia and chronic osteoarthritis. Then I was weaned down from my opioid meds.

“I Just went to my kidney doc. Because I’m in so much pain with no help from my pain doc, I started taking ibuprofen about a month ago. It pushed my stage 3 kidney disease to stage 4 in only one month. My kidneys are operating at 26%. That could lead to hospitalization or death. Does any of my doctors seem to care? Not really. Does the CDC or DEA care…not at all. I’m disgusted.

“I wasn’t depressed before. I am now.”

Susan was a nurse and still developed ibuprofen side effects

“Several months ago I noticed swelling in my feet and ankles, which I have never had in my life (I’m 68). Being a retired RN, I knew this could be a sign of congestive heart failure. The swelling was there off and on for a couple of weeks then it vanished.

“Later, I realized the only thing I had done differently was to take 600 mg of ibuprofen two or three times daily for aches and pains during that time. I looked up the side-effects, and sure enough, swelling in the extremities was one.

“I was very relieved to know the cause and I stopped worrying about heart failure and have never had the swelling return. Now, I take 600mg ibuprofen very occasionally as a one time dose.”

What Susan may not have realized is that ibuprofen and other NSAIDs can increase the risk for heart failure.

Other Ibuprofen Side Effects:

Ibuprofen and similar NSAIDs can cause a range of side effects. Most people are unaware of the cardiovascular problems such as increased blood pressure and irregular heart rhythms. Many people think that kidney damage is something that happens to other people, especially older folks with multiple health problems. In reality, kidney damage can happen to anyone who relies on high-dose NSAIDs for long periods of time. Here are just a few other adverse reactions associated with such medications.

NSAID Side Effects:

  • Heartburn, indigestion, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea
  • Headache, dizziness, drowsiness, disorientation
  • Skin rash, sensitivity to sunlight, itching (potentially serious, so notify the MD!)
  • Fluid retention, edema, high blood pressure
  • Heart failure, heart attack, stroke
  • Ringing in ears, hearing changes
  • Visual disturbances
  • Ulcers, bleeding ulcers, perforated ulcers
  • Liver damage, kidney damage
  • Blood disorders, anemia
  • Worsening asthma symptoms

Can You Avoid Ibuprofen Side Effects?

There are no obvious antidotes to NSAID side effects. Many health professionals prescribe proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) like esomeprazole, lansoprazole or omeprazole to counteract the risk of digestive tract upset. Such drugs may lower the likelihood of developing a stomach ulcer. But, we worry that PPIs may deplete the body of magnesium. When magnesium levels drop too low that can increase the risk for irregular heart rhythms. Here is a link to an article on this specific topic:

Is Your Medicine Triggering Scary Atrial Fibrillation (AFib)?

Alternatives to Ibuprofen?

There are lots of non drug approaches for easing arthritis pain and inflammation. They include home remedies like gin-soaked raisins, Certo and grape juice, tart cherries and Knox Gelatin. Then there are anti-inflammatory supplements like Ashwagandha, curcumin, boswellia, ginger, SAMe, and MSM. We have described the pros and cons of such options in our Guide to Alternatives for Arthritis.

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  1. Lisa
    NC
    Reply

    I use a combination of Turmeric, Boswellia, and Devils Claw. Works wonders for me. Have a friend who underwent carpel tunnel (with joint effusion) surgery 6 months ago. She is 54, a full time office rep, and uses a lot of ibuprofen. One of many I know that doesn’t see the permanent ramifications of this over the counter drug. Even after sharing many articles with her, she seemingly is immune to fact over fast pain relief.

  2. Amy
    NC
    Reply

    I take Ibuprofen for headaches-most every day. Is there a non-drug anything that I can take-instead of the Ibuprofen?
    Thanks

    • Sally
      Reply

      Amy, I’m sorry you are having headaches almost everyday. Been there, no fun. Perhaps you should figure out why you are having so many headaches. Years ago I was having headaches almost everyday. I couldn’t figure out what was going on and they were had to get rid of. At work I was stuck in the middle between two coworkers that were having trouble with each other. I was clenching my teeth all the time and when I wasn’t at work the teeth were unclenched and that would give me a headache. Took awhile to take care of that problem.

      A few years ago, I had a headache that was averaging a week at at time sometimes for two weeks in a row. Finally went to the doctor. The thing that helped the most was a B2 vitamin and magnesium supplement. Wish I could remember the dosage. Even today if I get several headaches in a row I will take B2 for awhile and I don’t get the headaches. Hope your goes away soon. Take care.

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