Does Ibuprofen Affect Your Kidneys?

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What is ibuprofen?

Ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil) is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). NSAIDs ease inflammation and pain. Doctors may prescribe ibuprofen to manage arthritis, aches, menstrual cramps, and dental pain. It works by temporarily reducing prostaglandins. 

Your body naturally releases prostaglandins after illness or injury. These hormone-like chemicals result in inflammation, causing fever, swelling, increased blood flow, and heightened pain sensitivity. 

The risks of ibuprofen

While purchasing ibuprofen from your local drugstore is easy, some people should not take it. This includes those who have heart, liver, or kidney problems. Anyone who has had an allergic reaction to aspirin or naproxen should also avoid ibuprofen. 

If you’re unsure whether ibuprofen is safe for you, ask your doctor. Along with being unsafe for certain people, it can also cause uncomfortable side effects.

Ibuprofen side effects

Common side effects include:

  • Diarrhea

  • Constipation

  • Gas

  • Vomiting

  • Nausea

Not everyone will experience these side effects. They are typically mild and preventable by taking the medication with food or milk. Uncommon adverse side effects may occur. You can avoid these by taking the drug as prescribed. 

The severe side effects occur when you overdose on ibuprofen or take it for a prolonged period. These may include:

  • Liver failure

  • Bleeding in the intestine and stomach

  • Impaired kidney function and high blood pressure

  • Stroke and heart attack

Consult your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Aggression

  • Confusion

  • Pale skin

  • Fast heartbeat

  • Painful urination

  • Blurred vision

Some people are allergic to ibuprofen, which can cause an allergic reaction. A severe reaction is called anaphylaxis, which is life-threatening and requires emergency care. Symptoms include:

  • Rash

  • Wheezing, difficulty breathing, or chest tightness

  • Swelling in the face, lips, mouth, tongue, or throat

How ibuprofen affects your kidneys

Your kidneys filter waste and toxins from your blood, such as hormones, electrolytes, vitamins, and nutrients. When you take medications, the kidneys isolate the active ingredients and transfer them to the bloodstream. 

Ibuprofen constricts blood vessels to reduce pain and inflammation, but this also decreases renal blood flow. This reduction in blood flow can reduce your kidney function, and improper use of medication such as ibuprofen may impair the kidneys. 

Certain conditions require higher blood flow, such as dehydration, chronic kidney disease, older age, heart failure, or liver failure. These may predispose you to ibuprofen-induced kidney injury. Taking NSAIDs can put you at higher risk of kidney injury from other kidney toxins, such as certain antibiotics. 

If you are suffering from chronic ailments such as kidney disease, you should avoid NSAIDs because they increase your risk of kidney failure. 

Which NSAIDs are safe?

NSAIDs are generally safe for occasional use and when taken according to your doctor's instructions. Still, you should refrain from these if you have reduced kidney function. NSAIDs can cause both reversible and progressive kidney impairment.

Ask your doctor how to use these medications if you:

  • Are aged over 65 and on diuretics¹

  • Have liver, heart, or kidney disease

  • Have high blood pressure (hypertension)

What painkillers can I use with kidney disease or arthritis?

NSAID-induced kidney disease is preventable. If you have kidney disease, your doctor is more likely to prescribe acetaminophen or aspirin for pain or inflammation. 

Consult a doctor to determine what medications are safe. Ask your doctor for a prescription if you have any underlying conditions like those mentioned above. 

How do I know if ibuprofen is affecting my kidneys?

Your healthcare provider will assess your kidneys via a serum creatinine test which evaluates the toxin levels in your bloodstream. If your kidneys are unhealthy, creatinine levels will be abnormally high. The test results will also provide insights into your glomerular filtration rate (GFR). This gives your doctor a comprehensive view of how well your kidney clears toxins.

Your doctor may also recommend a urine test to evaluate the presence of blood and protein. The consistent presence of either of these in the urine could be an early warning sign for kidney disease. They can also indicate an alternate cause of your kidney dysfunction.

How can I ensure my kidneys are healthy?

Here are some medication recommendations to maintain the optimal functioning of your kidneys:

  • Tell your doctor about all drugs you are taking, including over-the-counter (OTC) drugs.

  • Avoid NSAIDs if you are at risk of becoming dehydrated. For example, if you have diarrhea.

  • Avoid drinking alcohol when on analgesics.

  • Avoid prolonged use of drugs that combine caffeine, acetaminophen, and aspirin in one pill.

The lowdown

Ibuprofen is generally well-tolerated by the kidneys, but you should only take it as prescribed for a few days. The drug increases your risk of kidney impairment, especially among older adults with chronic kidney disease. This side effect usually presents within the first month of consistent NSAID use. 

If you are taking over-the-counter (OTC) ibuprofen, please read through the leaflet and discontinue the drug after seven to ten days. 

If you’re older, on diuretics, or have underlying conditions, ask your doctor before taking ibuprofen.

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