How to Avoid Ibuprofen Overdose and Side Effects

What is Ibuprofen?

The word overdose is most often associated with illegal drugs or prescription medications, but you can take too much of any drug, even over-the-counter (OTC) medications.

It may seem that taking a little extra of a mild pain reliever such as ibuprofen should not cause problems, but overdosing on this drug can have severe adverse effects on your health.

Our guide helps you understand how ibuprofen works, what to look for in case of an overdose, and how taking too much ibuprofen can harm your health.

We even offer you great natural alternatives to help relieve your pain and inflammation.

Keep reading to learn more about this common drug, and how it can affect your body.

It is fairly common for people to take OTC pain relievers.

From headaches to sore muscles to all types of pain and discomfort, people take ibuprofen frequently.

Last year alone, the sale of drugs like ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) totaled over $4 billion.

Ibuprofen is used by millions due to its effectiveness at relieving pain, reducing inflammation, and lowering fevers.

Popular brands of ibuprofen include Advil, Motrin, Rufen, and Nuprin.

NSAIDs like ibuprofen work by decreasing the levels of hormones that cause inflammation, which can reduce pain and swelling.

Like other painkillers, though, ibuprofen works because it interferes with the regular functioning of your central nervous system, dulling or stopping the transmission of pain messages from various parts of your body.

If you are injured or ill, reducing pain can make you feel better and aid in the healing process.

If you take pain relievers regularly, though, or take too much of them, you can suffer from many adverse side effects; you may even poison yourself.

Ibuprofen overdose can happen because you take too much of the drug, exceeding the recommended amount.

Overdose can also occur, though, when your body does not metabolize the ibuprofen correctly, exposing your internal organs to too much of the active ingredients in this drug.

 

Understanding Ibuprofen Overdose

To understand ibuprofen overdose, it is helpful to know exactly how this drug works to relieve pain and inflammation in your body.

Your body naturally produces prostaglandins, which are called local hormones because they are capable of affecting only specific parts of the body and not your entire system.

One of the jobs of prostaglandins is to cause inflammation after an illness or injury (2).

This immune-system response works to bring blood to the area, which can evoke quicker healing.

Inflammation over small periods is helpful, but prolonged inflammation causes pain, and can produce lasting harm to your body.

NSAIDs like ibuprofen block an enzyme called cyclooxygenase, which is necessary for producing prostaglandins.

While this effect is welcome when it reduces pain and swelling, this blockage also interferes with other, standard bodily functions that are important.

Your heart, blood, and digestive system require cyclooxygenase, so taking too much ibuprofen or taking it chronically can irritate the lining of your digestive system, hinder your blood-clotting ability, and cause changes to your blood pressure (3).

It is possible to take too much of any drug, whether over-the-counter or prescribed by a physician.

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No matter what the drug is, it is always safest to take the smallest dose possible to alleviate your symptoms.

With all medicines, taking more than the recommended dosage can lead to unpleasant and dangerous side effects that are often worse than your initial pain or discomfort.

To overdose on ibuprofen, you have either taken too much of the medication, or your body is not using the drug correctly (4).

If you are taking too much ibuprofen, you can damage the lining of your intestines and stomach.

Even if you have no other risk factors, increased ibuprofen intake can lead to increased odds of a stroke or heart attack.

If you have other health problems, you should not take ibuprofen in high doses or as a long-term solution to pain or inflammation (5).

 

Ibuprofen Use and Infertility

Researchers have reported links between ibuprofen use and both male and female infertility.

In a 2018 study, an international team from France and Denmark found evidence that ibuprofen impacts the production of sperm and other reproduction hormones.

The 31 men studied were given steady doses of ibuprofen for two weeks, and measures of their hormones were taken before, during, and after treatment.

Those in the group receiving ibuprofen, rather than the placebo, developed hypogonadism (6).

This is when the body does not produce enough testosterone, which can significantly impact fertility.

It is believed that ibuprofen suppresses the endocrine system, which is responsible for the production of testosterone and other hormones that regulate bodily functions.

When researchers exposed tissue from male patients’ testicles to ibuprofen, cell suppression was evident (7).

 

Symptoms of Ibuprofen Overdose

If you have taken too much ibuprofen, your symptoms may include (8):

  • Very low blood pressure, or hypotension;
  • Blurred vision;
  • Ringing in your ears;
  • Dizziness;
  • Confusion;
  • Headaches;
  • Tiredness or drowsiness;
  • Problems with digestion, including heartburn, stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and nausea;
  • Intestinal bleeding;
  • Difficulty urinating;
  • Rash;
  • Trouble breathing, including wheezing and shallow breath.

Ibuprofen overdose raises your risk of stroke and heart attack, either of which can be fatal.

You also have an increased risk for coma or seizures in the case of severe overdose and toxicity.

 

Proper Ibuprofen Dosages

Knowing how much ibuprofen is safe is the first step to avoiding an overdose.

While exceptions apply to those with certain medical conditions, ibuprofen is generally considered safe for adults and children ages six months and older.

If you have heart disease, if your blood does not clot properly, or if you have stomach or intestinal disorders, your body may not metabolize ibuprofen correctly.

Talk with your doctor before taking ibuprofen if you have these or other significant medical conditions.

For most adults without medical disorders, you can take up to 800 milligrams four times per day, or 3200 milligrams in 24 hours, safely and without serious side effects.

While this dosage still places stress on your digestive system and liver, it is unlikely to cause the symptoms of poisoning listed above or force you to seek medical care.

This dosage should not be taken daily or for prolonged periods but is the highest dosage recommended for severe symptoms.

Remember to take less if you need it.

For most instances of mild pain and inflammation, 200-400 milligrams every four to six hours is usually sufficient to alleviate your symptoms.

Your body needs time both to metabolize the drug and for it to take effect, so be sure to wait for at least four hours before taking an additional dosage.

Remember to take the smallest dose recommended to determine its impact, and then take more if you are not feeling better.

It is not advisable to mix several medications, whether prescribed or over-the-counter unless advised by your doctor.

Always take ibuprofen at least eight hours before or 30 minutes after other OTC medications, including naproxen and aspirin.

Dosages for children vary by height and weight, so talk with your pediatrician if you are unsure of the right amount for your child.

Read the label for your drug carefully before administering it to a child.

If your child is under two, talk with your pediatrician before giving him or her any OTC medications, including ibuprofen.

Never give your child more than the recommended dosage.

Pregnant women should talk with their doctor about taking any painkillers, including ibuprofen, during the third trimester.

There may be unwanted effects on your developing fetus, as certain medications can cross the placental wall or impact your child in other ways.

If you have pain and swelling while pregnant, your doctor can advise you on how best to handle your symptoms.

Nursing women should also avoid medications, including OTC pain relievers, as there is little clear evidence about breast milk transfer for ibuprofen.

 

Ibuprofen Use Warnings and Interactions

While there are usually few side effects when taking low doses of ibuprofen, always take it with food to avoid possible problems.

If you are taking painkillers, blood pressure medications, blood thinners, steroids, or other medications, you should not take ibuprofen without first talking with your doctor.

Alcohol and other medications can influence how you metabolize ibuprofen, resulting in possible toxicity and overdose, in some cases.

If you drink alcohol while taking painkillers such as ibuprofen, you can damage the lining of your stomach, possibly causing bleeding.

Others who should not take ibuprofen without first consulting with their doctor include:

  • The elderly, and those with medical conditions that affect their ability to absorb nutrients.
  • Anyone with a history of heart, blood pressure, or circulation problems.
  • Anyone with an allergy to pain medications.

If you have any of these conditions, you have an increased risk of experiencing an ibuprofen overdose, so know your risks and talk with your doctor.

While not the same as an overdose, allergic reactions to ibuprofen can be serious and should be treated seriously.

Symptoms of an ibuprofen allergy include a runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, trouble breathing or wheezing, hives, and swelling of your tongue, lips, face, or throat.

Seek medical attention immediately if you develop these symptoms after taking ibuprofen.

To be cautious, you should talk with your doctor before taking ibuprofen if you have any of the following medical conditions.

  • High blood pressure;
  • Heart disease;
  • High cholesterol;
  • Diabetes, especially if you are a smoker;
  • A history of blood clots, stroke, or heart attack;
  • Asthma;
  • Stomach ulcers;
  • Kidney disease;
  • Fluid retention;
  • Liver disease;
  • Autoimmune diseases, such as lupus or Marfan syndrome;
  • If you are recovering from coronary bypass surgery;
  • If you are allergic to other OTC NSAIDs;
  • If you recently had an asthma attack or an allergic reaction.

 

Steps to Take in Case of an Ibuprofen Overdose

If you have taken ibuprofen and experience any of the symptoms listed above, call the US Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222, or dial 9-1-1.

If you are at all concerned, seek emergency medical care to monitor your symptoms and vital signs.

Medical personnel may give you a laxative or activated charcoal to decrease rapidly the ibuprofen levels in your body.

Activated charcoal binds to drugs and heavy metals in your blood, and helps your kidneys eliminate them through your urine; laxatives help your digestive system empty quickly.

To be effective, though, these treatments should be given soon after the overdose.

The longer the drug is in your system, the more harm it can do.

While the best way to avoid the long-lasting side effects of an overdose is to be sure you do not take too much of the medication, if you do overdose, medical professionals can assist you in dealing with the adverse effects.

If you treat it quickly, chances are you will not suffer lasting effects from the drug.

In the future, though, you may want to seek alternative treatments for your pain and inflammation to avoid possible complications from ibuprofen.

 

Natural Pain Relievers Instead of Ibuprofen

Avoiding ibuprofen and other NSAIDs for the treatment of pain and inflammation may seem difficult but is actually easier than you think.

There are many supplements, herbs, and foods that have natural pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties that you can use safely and effectively to help with your symptoms.

These are especially helpful for those with chronic headaches, pain, and other issues that would typically require you to take medication regularly.

 

Adjust Your Diet

Eliminating inflammation starts with what you eat.

Eating foods rich in antioxidants and low in inflammatory ingredients such as gluten and casein can lower your overall inflammation levels, and help decrease your symptoms.

A healthy, whole-food diet low in processed and packaged foods will go a long way toward reducing your inflammation and your pain.

 

Change How You Move

You may also need to make changes to your activity level, sleep schedule, and posture to reduce pain and inflammation.

Exercise is a great way to strengthen muscles and avoid joint pain while sitting less and moving more reduces stress and lowers inflammation.

Pay attention to how you sit and stand to take care of the muscles in your back, shoulders, and hips.

Make sure you are getting sufficient rest to allow your body to rest and repair.

Use ice to reduce inflammation in your joints, as well.

 

Try Ginger or Turmeric

Ginger is a wonderful, natural anti-inflammatory, and has been used for years to treat arthritis and other inflammatory diseases.

Turmeric’s active ingredient is curcumin, which has many medicinal benefits.

Curcumin is effective in treating ailments such as depression, digestive disorders, blood clots, arthritis, high cholesterol, and chronic pain.

Adding either of these herbs to your diet, or drinking tea containing ginger or curcumin, can help with your pain and inflammation.

 

Eat Pineapple

Pineapple contains a powerful enzyme called bromelain.

It is an excellent natural treatment for asthma, arthritis, indigestion, inflamed connective tissue and muscles, and sinus infections.

Eating just a small amount each day can positively affect your symptoms.

 

Take Magnesium

Magnesium plays an essential role in many bodily functions and processes.

Taking a magnesium supplement can help treat muscle spasms, headaches, and indigestion, and promote relaxation.

 

Use Essential Oils

The benefits of essential oils are numerous, and several varieties can relieve pain, boost your immune system, promote relaxation, and fight infection.

Those most-favored for relieving inflammation include tea tree, lavender, peppermint, and eucalyptus.

 

Take a Bath

A bath with Epsom salts helps relieve muscle and joint pain, relax muscle spasms, and promote the release of tension in inflamed areas.

Epsom salts absorb through your skin, and penetrate swollen and painful areas.

 

Get a Massage

A massage is a perfect way to relax muscles and relieve the tension that could be causing your pain.

Regular massage helps alleviate back and muscle pain, and you can see significant improvement in your symptoms without any medication.

 

Use Herbal Ointments

Gels and ointments containing arnica or comfrey root, two powerful herbs, can reduce aches and inflammation from injury or inflammation (11).

Arnica and comfrey have few side effects, and are safe to use for short periods to treat minor pains and aches.

 

Precautions

Remember to use ibuprofen only as directed, and only to take the smallest dose needed.

Never use ibuprofen or other NSAIDs for the management of chronic pain.

Talk with your doctor if you are concerned about how your medical condition may affect your use of ibuprofen.

Always seek medical attention if you are experiencing the symptoms of an ibuprofen overdose or allergic reaction, as these can be life-threatening.

If you have pain or inflammation, consider natural remedies such as ginger, turmeric, pineapple, and magnesium to help with your pain.

Adding a healthy diet, regular exercise, essential oils, Epsom salt baths, and massage to your lifestyle can also help alleviate pain and inflammation.

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