Is It Bad to Take Ibuprofen Every Day?
Roll out of bed with a gnawing pain in your lower back, develop a throbbing headache, or start feeling excruciating period cramps, and your first course of action might be to pop an ibuprofen in hopes of easing the discomfort. If those aggravating symptoms just won't quit, you might gulp down another dose later that day — and, if you're still in pain, continue to take the pain-relieving medication for days on end without batting an eye. After all, a drug that's sold over-the-counter can't be that harmful to your health with long-term use, right?
Seriously, is it bad to take ibuprofen every day?
Spoiler: It's not a good idea to take ibuprofen every day. Taking ibuprofen daily, with doses spaced out six to eight hours, for more than five to seven days is not recommended or viewed as safe by medical professionals, says Janet Morgan, M.D., an internist at the Cleveland Clinic. In this case, taking more than 600 milligrams total each day is not recommended, either, says Dr. Morgan. "[Ibuprofen] can cause ulcers in your stomach if taken every day, long-term, and it can damage your kidneys and even liver if taken long-term," she explains.
The non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, which helps decrease the pain-inducing inflammatory process throughout the entire body, is known to irritate and "eat away at" the inside lining of your stomach, particularly when taken without food, says Dr. Morgan. Over time, this irritation can lead to an ulcer — an open sore that can cause burning stomach pain, heartburn, and an intolerance to fatty foods, according to the Mayo Clinic. "Imagine if I took my fingernails, stuck them inside your stomach, and slowly scratched off layers of your stomach," says Dr. Morgan. "That's kind of what it does — it can get [through] the layers and layers and layers until you've actually developed an ulcer." (Wait, should you avoid ibuprofen while sick with COVID?)
Similarly, long-term use of ibuprofen can damage tissue in the liver and the kidneys, as the drug decreases blood flow to the waste-removing organs, says Dr. Morgan. The risk of kidney damage is greater for folks who already have decreased kidney function or kidney disease. But even individuals without any pre-existing conditions are at risk of developing chronic interstitial nephritis — a disorder in which the spaces between the small tubes inside the kidney become inflamed, which may lead to acute kidney failure — with long-term or heavy ibuprofen use, according to the National Kidney Foundation.
But internal damage isn't the only side effect you have to worry about. Taking ibuprofen daily can also cause unpleasant symptoms such as heartburn, nausea, and vomiting, says Dr. Morgan. "That's more if you don't take it with food, but it can certainly occur in people that just have sensitive stomachs in general," she adds. And if you're already using prescription medications for high blood pressure or diabetes, simultaneously taking ibuprofen every day can be "dangerous," says Dr. Morgan; NSAIDs such as ibuprofen may increase blood pressure and make medications designed to lower high blood pressure levels less effective, and in individuals taking a sulfonylureas medication to manage Type 2 diabetes, ibuprofen may cause hypoglycemia (aka low blood sugar). (Related: Can Ibuprofen Really Reduce Your Period Flow?)
What can you do for your pain instead?
TL;DR: Taking ibuprofen daily comes with plenty of health risks, which is why Dr. Morgan recommends opting for a topical pain reliever to ease your symptoms, such as an anti-inflammatory gel or lidocaine patch. "Topicals are not absorbed as much into your bloodstream and into your system [as oral medications], so working locally at the area where you're having your pain tends to be a safer option," she explains. If you're suffering from an unbearable headache and a gel isn't in the cards, Dr. Morgan suggests home remedies such as going for a walk and practicing deep breathing to help create some relief. And for throbbing period cramps, consider applying a heating pad or hot water bottle to your lower abdomen, taking a hot bath, or rolling out your yoga mat and flowing through a few stretches to alleviate some of the pain.
If your symptoms are still lasting after five days of treatment — whether it's multiple doses of ibuprofen a day, a topical agent, a casual stroll, or a heating pad — it's time to book an appointment with your doctor, says Dr. Morgan. "If you're just getting this random headache, for instance, and it's been more than three to five days, definitely check with a provider to make sure there [isn't] something underlying that you could be missing," she explains. The same goes for menstrual cramping that worsens over time and doesn't stop after your period ends, as you may have a serious health condition such as endometriosis or fibroids, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. "Even if it's just a joint ache, if it's going on and on, there could be something going on that you need to x-ray or get checked with a provider."