Ibuprofen Risks, Alternatives and Safety Tips
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) were first introduced in the 1960s and quickly became the most widely prescribed class of drugs in the world, with more than 100 million prescriptions issued annually in the United States alone, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. NSAIDs include Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and Naproxen (Aleve). NSAIDs work by inhibiting prostaglandins, which are chemicals in the body that trigger inflammation.
NSAID Side Effects
We won’t be going over the mild side effects here, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, among others. We are more concerned with the long-term implications associated with these drugs. Long term side effects of NSAIDs may include: gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding, GI ulcers, liver damage, kidney damage, headaches, dizziness, hypertension, increased risk for heart attacks and strokes, and leaky gut syndrome. Research points out that the older you get, the greater chance you have for serious side effects occurring. The National Institute of Health (NIH) warns about the possible risks of ibuprofen: “NSAIDs such as ibuprofen may cause ulcers, bleeding, or holes in the stomach or intestine. These problems may develop at any time during treatment, may happen without warning symptoms, and may cause death. GI damage is the leading adverse effect of NSAIDs. The NIH also warns that “the risk may be higher for people who take NSAIDs for a long time, are older in age, have poor health, or who drink three or more alcoholic drinks per day while taking ibuprofen.”
NSAID users have been shown to be 17% more likely to develop heart failure compared to nonusers. (see source here)
Alternatives to NSAIDs:
- Chiropractic care. Have you seen your chiropractor lately? Chiropractors are highly trained in getting to the root of your aches and pains and helping to eliminate them. Chiropractors restore joint mobility, which reduces pain, inflammation and muscle tension while helping increase your range of motion and restore function. Chiropractic care also works to prevent injuries from occurring and helps improve sports performance. The list goes on!
- Tumeric, black pepper extract, and ginger. These have anti-inflammatory effects like Ibuprofen, but they also have anti-oxidant properties that break down existing inflammation. You can eat these or take them in supplement form.
- Capsaicin. Capsaicin is the active component of chili peppers, and can be used as a topical remedy to reduce nerve, muscle and joint pain.
- Valerian Root- often called “Nature’s Tranquilizer” helping to relieve insomnia, tension, irritability, stress, anxiety and reduce nerve sensitivity which alleviates feelings of pain.
- Massage. Everyone loves a massage! Massage or soft tissue work helps to alleviate muscle tension, allowing you to move easier and feel more relaxed.
- Exercise. Exercise is so important for joint health! Many chronic NSAID users take it for their arthritic aches and pains without realizing the unintended consequences of taking NSAIDs. When you have arthritis, mild to moderate exercise can decrease your pain and stiffness, improve your range of motion, strengthen your muscles, and increase your endurance. Exercises that include stretching, strength training and endurance building help to build muscle around your joints, improve range of motion and reduce your overall (systemic) inflammation.
- Weight loss. Obesity and being overweight can put additional tension and stress on joints that are weight-bearing, such as the knees and hips, leading to accelerated arthritic changes in those joints. It is also difficult to exercise when you are carrying around additional pounds, which can lead to more stiffness and pain making it harder to exercise.
- Heat & cold therapies. Remedies such as hot and cold packs and hot baths can promote relaxation and decrease muscle tension.
- Meditation. This is especially helpful in people with chronic pain. Chronic pain is exhausting, both mentally and physically and anyone who has dealt with severe pain knows what I am talking about. Meditation can help reduce stress and anxiety levels, which help to reduce inflammation in the body.
NSAID Dosage Effects:
The higher the NSAID dose you take, and the longer you take it, the greater the potential risk. Some experts say that the max dosage per day of NSAIDs should not exceed 1,200 mg. Most experts agree though that if they taken for under ten days at the recommended dose, NSAIDs are considered relatively safe.
NSAID Safety Tips
- Use only what you need. Don’t start off by taking the max dose (or more!) of an NSAID. Take the lowest dose first, and then raise it only if it doesn’t help.
- Stop as soon as you can. Like we discussed above, most experts agree that NSAIDs are relatively safe if taken for under ten days. Also, try some of the alternatives mentioned above that don’t involve serious side effects like NSAIDs do.
Author: Courtenay Schroeder, DC
Owner & Chiropractor @ ProMotion Chiropractic
The information and reference guides in this website are intended solely for informational purposes only to promote consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. The contents of this website are not intended to offer personal medical advice, diagnose health problems or for treatment purposes. It is not a substitute for medical care provided by a licensed and qualified health professional. Please consult your health care provider for any questions or advice on any exercise, medication, nutrition or supplementation.