What Happens To Your Body When You Take Too Much Ibuprofen

Short-term pain relief may be hurting your health in the long run.

woman taking pill fizkes / Shutterstock

You might be thinking, "If I don't need a prescription to buy it, it must be safe to casually take it." For the most part, taking ibuprofen to ease the pain is totally harmless and effective. However, a drug's a drug, and if you're taking ibuprofen on the daily, you might start to notice some unfortunate side effects.

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First off, what is ibuprofen, exactly? "Ibuprofen is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID). NSAIDs are frequently used for the treatment of inflammatory and painful conditions and are considered to be one of the most commonly used classes of medications worldwide," Harrison Linder, MD, from the Center for Interventional Pain Medicine at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, tells POPSUGAR.

It's a handy medicine to stash in your purse, as long as it's used properly in the recommended time span and dosage amount. "The current recommendation for ibuprofen is to limit daily use to no more than 30 days. Dosing can range from 400 milligrams to 800 milligrams up to four times a day with a daily maximum of 3200 milligrams per day," says Dr. Linder.


However, if you exceed that amount or keep taking it well into your second (or third) month, the negative effects begin to outweigh the desired benefits of decreased discomfort and pain, he says.

You might be surprised, but it's actually pretty common for some people to rely on ibuprofen as a way to make it through the day. "Very often, individuals involved in large amounts of physical activity, either athletes or people with physically demanding occupations, will rely on ibuprofen or other NSAIDs as a way to limit daily aches and pains and allow continued function," says Dr. Linder.

Unfortunately, while you might feel that instant hit of relief and make it through a final set of burpees, you could be putting your body at risk down the road.

Here's all the info you need to know about ibuprofen, along with the common physical side effects you could experience if you take too much of it.


How does ibuprofen work?

“Ibuprofen and other NSAIDs achieve their effects through inhibition of an enzyme named cyclooxygenase (COX), and this COX enzyme is responsible for the production of substances such as prostaglandins, prostacyclins, and thromboxanes,” says Dr. Linder.

These play a key role in normal cellular functions. In the short term, the use of ibuprofen is beneficial due to its ability to limit the production of these types of substances that can cause inflammation and pain.

An insider's tip: when taking ibuprofen, take it with turmeric or curcumin to maximize those immediate benefits. “I encourage my patients who take ibuprofen to take it with a curcumin supplement and lots of water, which also rapidly improves inflammation,” explains Atlanta-based integrative medicine physician Dr. Bindiya Gandhi, MD, to POPSUGAR.


What’s more, “the curcumin also protects the GI tract while taking the meds, and staying hydrated protects the kidneys,” she says. Win-win.

However, the effects of ibuprofen are not specific to any singular tissue type, says Dr. Linder, so long-term intake or overuse can lead to gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and renal systems complications.

1. Taking too much might result in stomach problems

Prostaglandins produced by the COX enzyme help protect the stomach and intestinal lining from the harmful effects of stomach acids that are used to digest food. So without adequate prostaglandins, the gastrointestinal lining is exposed to chronic irritation from these acids, explains Dr. Linder.

When there’s agitation, it can ultimately cause ulcers in the stomach and intestines, leading to a slew of uncomfortable symptoms, like abdominal pain, and in rarer cases, potentially dangerous internal bleeding, he says. So if you’re noticing serious tummy troubles and pain, stop taking ibuprofen immediately to see if the cramping stops, and chat with your doctor.

2. An excess amount may also result in heart complications

End products of the COX enzyme are involved in coagulation and hemostasis, meaning they play a key role in platelet aggregation in response to injury and trauma, explains Dr. Linder. This helps with blood clot formation and the control of bleeding.


But “with long-term use or overuse of ibuprofen, patients may be more at risk for increased or uncontrolled bleeding,” he explains. Additionally, you may experience high blood pressure when you take ibuprofen in excess, putting unnecessary strain on your heart.

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3. You may also deal with poor kidney function.

With regard to the renal system, prostaglandins sure come in handy, because they help regulate blood flow to the kidneys. However, “when there are abnormal amounts of prostaglandins, the renal blood vessels constrict, leading to decreased blood flow and increased pressures,” says Dr. Linder. This can cause acute renal failure in more serious cases.

What’s more, altered blood flow to the kidney can change the way the body eliminates electrolytes, so you might notice imbalanced levels of potassium and sodium, which can throw your body out of whack, he says. That means you might be especially dehydrated or you might hold some extra water weight.


When you should avoid ibuprofen altogether

“Do not take ibuprofen with alcohol because that slightly increases your risk for GI bleeding,” says Dr. Gandhi. This will only further damage the stomach lining and lead to abdominal pain and blood loss.

If you’ve just finished a marathon and you’re grabbing a beer, don’t take ibuprofen with it, she adds. ”Taking ibuprofen after a long marathon race, and not adequately staying hydrated right after, also increases the risk of acute kidney damage,” she says.

I often see athletes after a race end up with rhabdomyolysis, acute muscle, and kidney injury, because they don’t stay adequately hydrated after a race, or drink alcohol to celebrate and take ibuprofen to improve their overexertion and muscle soreness,” she explains.


Additionally, if you’re pregnant, limit your usage of ibuprofen, especially during the third trimester, as it increases the risk of heart and lung conditions, causing the baby’s heart to close prematurely, warns Dr. Gandhi. When used for too long or in overuse, “it is also believed to prolong labor and increase the risk of bleeding,” she adds.

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Isadora Braum is a freelance writer, certified health coach, and author of 5-Minute Energy. Visit her website isadorabraum.com.