The Reality of Ibuprofen Overdose and Overuse

Contrary to what many of us have heard growing up, it is indeed possible to succumb to an ibuprofen overdose. Second to that are the side effects that can develop as a result of ibuprofen overuse or extended use of this medicine, which typically occurs in individuals who use this medication to treat ongoing pain or inflammation.

What is Ibuprofen?

Ibuprofen was created back in 1960 and marketed soon after to the public. It is a non-prescription medication that is used to treat common maladies such as pain, fever, and muscle cramps. It is also a member of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory family, which means that it works to actively reduce inflammation in the body. It is one of the most commonly used medications for the treatment of arthritis pain and the physical discomfort that accompanies menstruation. Popular brand names of ibuprofen include Advil, Motrin, and Nurofen.

Symptoms that may accompany ibuprofen use are nausea, photosensitivity (heightened chance of sunburn occurring when the skin is exposed to sunlight), skin blistering, and a heightened risk of miscarriage in women that are pregnant.

Ibuprofen Overdose

The recommended dosage of ibuprofen varies depending on one’s age and weight. The maximum daily dose for an adult is 1,200 mg, or six-200 mg tablets. Tablets should generally be taken four to six hours apart with one or two tablets per dose. Typical prescription ibuprofen has a daily limit of 3,200 mg, or six-800 mg tablets. The amount of tablets necessary in order to overdose on ibuprofen differs from person to person because the medication to body mass ratio is different. Regular prescription ibuprofen comes in 800 mg tablets; however some types of prescription ibuprofen come in tablets as large as 1000 mg. If one were to assume that 1000 mg of ibuprofen is the most a person should or can safely take in one dose, then it would be reasonable to also assume that taking more than 1000 mg of ibuprofen, which is equal to five-200 mg over the counter tablets, would be considered “too much.” Is it enough to make you overdose? That, again, depends on your body weight and your sensitivity or tolerance to ibuprofen. Individuals who take ibuprofen on a regular basis may develop a bit of immunity to the medication and need to take more in order for it to be effective against their symptoms. In this case, it would take even more tablets in order for an overdose to occur.

None of this is to imply that you will be safe taking up to 1000 mg of ibuprofen, because that simply may not be true, especially if you are particularly small, if you are easily affected by medication, or if you have an underlying problem such as a liver or kidney issue.

Long-Term Use of Ibuprofen

The long term use of ibuprofen is much more likely to occur than an actual ibuprofen overdose. In a time where medical costs are too expensive and still rising, many people try to manage their pain using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen and naproxen to avoid having to go to the doctor. While pain management is a good strategy to last until an appointment can be made to see the doctor, it is not by any means a long term answer or solution.

Ibuprofen, especially, is well known for the negative effects that can occur through use of this medication for longer than one month. Some of the most commonly reported symptoms to crop up due to extended use of ibuprofen are acid reflux and stomach ulcers. The stomach has a thick lining that protects its tissues from the acid that it uses to break down food. Ibuprofen can cause this lining to wear away until eventually there is a patch of tissue fully exposed to the dangerous acid. An open sore called an ulcer can easily develop and will suffer irritation and discomfort every time the stomach produces a significant amount of acid, such as after eating fatty food or drinking a caffeinated beverage. Excessive ibuprofen use can also weaken the sphincter muscles at the top of the stomach that are responsible for keeping bile inside the stomach. If these muscles relax or spasm after a meal it can cause acid to backwash up into the esophagus and produce a burning sensation, nausea, and sometimes even vomiting.

Other side effects of long term ibuprofen overdose or overuse include a heightened risk of heart attack as well as being at a 50 percent increased risk for kidney cancer. Men who take ibuprofen for more than three months may experience erectile dysfunction. If the pain medication is prescription-based, then it may be worthwhile to discuss a possible change in medication type to improve the erectile dysfunction issue. 

Treating Ibuprofen Side-Effects

The primary side effects of ibuprofen overdose or overuse are acid reflux and ulcer formation. In order for these issues to be corrected the individual is going to have to stop taking ibuprofen or at least reduce the amount and frequency at which they use it. This will allow the lining in the stomach to repair and for the esophageal sphincter at the top of the stomach to regain its strength.

Minor side effects such as nausea and photosensitivity are usually not preventable, but there are measures one can take to reduce their effects. Taking ibuprofen with a meal can help to reduce nausea a bit, as can lying down or taking a nap soon after the medicine is taken. Photosensitivity can be countered by using a high-SPF sunscreen and keeping one’s skin covered when going outdoors for a long period of time.