You’ve got a headache, so you take ibuprofen. Your muscles are sore from a workout, so you take ibuprofen. Your menstrual cramps are bad this week, so you take ibuprofen.
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But is it really safe to be taking so much ibuprofen?
In short, no. “People don’t think of over-the-counter medicine as being medicine at all,” says internist Janet Morgan, MD, “but it absolutely is medicine, and like anything else, it’s potentially very dangerous.”
Dr. Morgan talks about the risks and how to take ibuprofen correctly, sparingly and responsibly.
One study estimates that NSAIDs — non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs used to treat pain and inflammation — are responsible for 107,000 hospitalizations and 15,600 deaths a year in the U.S.
When used incorrectly, especially chronically, negative effects can include:
You’re more prone to negative effects if you’re taking other medications that ibuprofen doesn’t mix well with.
“Ibuprofen can interact with the meds you’re on, especially high blood pressure medications, which can lead to some serious adverse effects,” Dr. Morgan says. “That could be deadly.”
Ibuprofen can interact negatively with:
Ibuprofen can impact certain conditions
You should also check with your doctor before taking ibuprofen if you have any of the following conditions:
How much ibuprofen is safe?
How much ibuprofen you can take depends on, well, you. “There’s not really a one-size-fits-all answer,” Dr. Morgan says. “It depends on your general state of health.”
As a general rule, though, Dr. Morgan says most healthy people — those who don’t have high blood pressure or gastrointestinal issues — can typically take ibuprofen on a limited basis to address minor aches and pains.
“It’s not without risk, but you can feel pretty safe taking it for about three days,” she says. “Take no more than 400 to 600 milligrams, three times a day, with food. Otherwise, it can ruin your stomach.”
And just because you can get ibuprofen over the counter doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be treated like medication. As with any drug, you should ask your doctor how much ibuprofen, if any, is safe for you, based on your specific health issues and concerns.
Dr. Morgan lays out a few important, commonsense guidelines to keep in mind before heading to the medicine cabinet and diving into that bottle of ibuprofen.