Pain relievers like ibuprofen are “the most commonly used over-the-counter drugs worldwide (Nature Reviews Endocrinology, July, 2016). People assume that if the FDA permits OTC sale, such products must be quite safe. The more we learn about ibuprofen side effects and other complications of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), the more concerned we become. The latest adverse reaction was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (online, Jan. 8, 2018). The article was titled: “Ibuprofen Alters Human Testicular Physiology to Produce A State of Compensated Hypogonadism.”
Compensated Hypogonadism? Really? What is It?
You know what gonads are, right? We’re talking about testes or testicles, otherwise known colloquially as balls, nuts or rocks in English. In Spanish we’re talking huevos (eggs) or cajones. Hypogonadism is not a good thing for men. It has been traditionally defined as a condition of low testosterone (low T).
There is now, however, a recognition that there are various flavors of hypogonadism. Without getting too far into the weeds, there is primary, secondary and “compensated” hypogonadism. The latter is characterized as “subclinical” hypogonadism. Although men have normal testosterone levels, other hormones (particularly luteinizing hormone) are out of whack. This condition may be associated with erectile dysfunction, fewer sexual thoughts and reduced physical activity (Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, April, 2010).
A review in the journal Andrology (May, 2017) noted that:
“Overall, primary and compensated hypogonadism depicted the worst clinical picture in terms of impaired fertility.”
Ibuprofen Side Effects: Impaired Fertility?
The study, published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reports that this nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug alters human testicular physiology. That is worrisome, because the anti-androgenic action of ibuprofen “may be involved in adult male reproductive problems.”
The authors conducted a randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial on 31 healthy men between 18 and 35 years of age. Some of the men took 1200 mg of ibuprofen, the maximum recommended dose, while others took a placebo. They took their pills for two weeks prior to an exercise session and for one month following the session. The researchers found that ibuprofen triggered changes in the men’s hormone levels.
We hate to put words in researchers mouths. That’s why we frequently publish portions of the original research. In this case, we extract from a section of the paper titled “Significance.”
“Concern has been raised over declining male reproductive health in humans. Our study addresses this issue by extending data showing antiandrogen effects of analgesics and suggests that such compounds may be involved in adult male reproductive problems. Using a unique combination of a randomized, controlled clinical trial and ex vivo and in vitro approaches, we report a univocal depression of important aspects of testicular function, including testosterone production, after use of over-the-counter ibuprofen…”
The investigators go on to note that ibuprofen was linked to:
“compensated hypogonadism, a disorder associated with adverse reproductive and physical health disorders.”
Implications of the Ibuprofen Side Effects Research:
Our hormones play a critical role in growth and development. When levels of testosterone or luteinizing hormone are altered, there can be changes in mood, muscle, metabolism, libido and reproduction. We cannot say at this time whether regular use of NSAIDs will impair fertility or reduce sex drive. But with tens of millions of people taking NSAIDs like ibuprofen on a daily basis, we are more than a little concerned about the long-term consequences.
If compensated hypogonadism progresses to primary hypogonadism, a lot of men could end up with low T, depression, lowered libido, fatigue, reduced muscle mass and diminished strength.
Other Ibuprofen Side Effects:
- Cardiovascular (AFib, heart failure, heart attack, stroke)
- Digestive distress (heartburn, diarrhea, stomachache, nausea, vomiting, constipation)
- Central nervous system (headache, disorientation, drowsiness, dizziness)
- Liver damage
- Kidney damage
- Fluid retention (hypertension, edema)
- Skin reactions (rash, sensitivity to sun, itching)
- Visual changes (blurred vision)
- Hearing problems (tinnitus, aka ringing in the ears)
- Ulcers (bleeding ulcers, perforated ulcers)
- Anemia (other blood disorders)
- Breathing problems (worsening asthma symptoms)
Stories from Readers:
We recognize that such a long list of ibuprofen side effects quickly becomes meaningless. Most people assume that such adverse reactions will never happen to them. They cannot imagine complications like AFib, kidney damage or bleeding ulcers. That’s why we provide actual reports from visitors to this website.
Wendy in Ashburnham, MA reported little appreciated ibuprofen side effects:
“I have found that taking ibuprofen almost immediately causes my sinuses to swell, which has led to an asthma attack. Neither aspirin nor acetaminophen causes this problem.”
Bill in Newport News, VA developed hypertension on ibuprofen:
“I am 59 and have had physical exams annually for the past 19 yrs. My blood pressure [BP] is always 113/70. Sometimes it reaches 122/78. The highest is has been is 129/82.
“I took 2-4 ibuprofen for 2 months because I sprained a foot jogging. I took my blood pressure with a machine while in a store. It was 167/103! I said to myself, ‘no way. This is a screwed up machine.’
“An hour later I got groceries at Farm Fresh . They have a BP machine there. I had actually used it once last summer. That time my BP was normal. This time when I checked it it was 177/97. Crazy.
“I asked myself what the heck did I eat for the last two months. I back tracked everything for two months; supplements, jogging, weight, etc. I did the same as always. Then it hit me. I had been taking 400-800 mg of ibuprofen I got at Dollar Tree.
“I asked a pharmacist: ‘Does ibuprofen affect BP?’ She stopped putting up boxes and said yes without hesitation. I quit totally. I checked last week after a month on ibuprofen. My BP was 122/84.
“Holy cow. There should be a humongous warning sign on that crap. I didn’t think twice about it or allergy pills.”
Izzy in PA had a similar problem:
“I also took ibuprofen (200 mg daily) for about 2 months for stiffness/pain before playing racquetball. My BP ALWAYS was normal. I went to the doctor for a routine physical and by BP was 160/93!
“I couldn’t believe it! I have stopped ibuprofen and am waiting for my BP to come down. I did read the warning, but since my BP is always normal, I took it with a grain of salt!! Not any more!!”
Cindy in Seattle, WA developed an irregular heart rhythm:
“When I had atrial fibrillation a few years back (now resolved), I was told, in no uncertain terms, by every caregiver I came in contact with, NOT TO TAKE NSAIDS, EVER! They can cause and/or increase the AF. I stopped right there and have never taken another one.”
People’s Pharmacy Perspective on Ibuprofen Side Effects:
We have heard from many visitors that they cannot not function without ibuprofen or some other NSAID like naproxen or diclofenac. We get it. We also want people to realize that OTC pain relievers are not super safe. The list of side effects above are real. People die from bleeding or perforated ulcers, heart attacks or kidney disease.
The hormonal changes of ibuprofen on study volunteers were reversible (PNAS, online Jan. 8, 2018). Scientists don’t know whether men taking large doses of ibuprofen over an extended time might experience irrevocable alterations. Couples contemplating conception should be aware of the potential that this common drug might reduce fertility.
Share your own experience with ibuprofen in the comment section below.