IT’S something found in almost every household – ibuprofen.
The common painkiller works wonders for back pain, period cramps or a twisted ankle.
Most people take a couple of pills occasionally to treat inflammatory pain.
But those who find themselves using them daily, or more than the intended use, could be putting themselves in real danger.
Ibuprofen is a type of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAIDs), which has been researchers time and time again.
What is the general safe dose?
Phil Day, Superintendent Pharmacist, Pharmacy2U, told The Sun: “The usual dose for adults is one or two 200mg tablets or capsules, up to three times a day, preferably with or after food.
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“In some cases, your doctor may prescribe a higher dose of up to 600mg to take up to four times a day if needed.
“The dose is lower for children. It should be used at the lowest dose and for the shortest amount of time necessary.”
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Mr Day said ibuprofen “should only be taken for short periods” when you don’t have a prescription.
He said if you need to take ibuprofen for ten days, or if your child has needed it for three day, you should see your GP.
They can assess your risks and potentially offer another medication to offset complications.
What are the harms?
Mr Day said taking too much ibuprofen, or for too long, can potentially cause side effects such as:
- Feeling and being sick (nausea and vomiting)
- Stomach pain
- Feeling tired or sleepy
- Black poo or blood in your vomit – a sign of bleeding in your stomach
- Ringing in your ears (tinnitus)
- Less commonly, difficulty breathing or an increased risk of some heart problems
Dr Sarah Jarvis, GP and Clinical Director of Patient.info, said the risks associated with ibuprofen are “very well documented”.
“For most people, taking the standard dose in the short term is associated with a low risk of side effects,” she told The Sun.
“Where we get into problems is when someone is taking a high dose, or over the long term [weeks or months], but especially both together.”
The dangerous side effects of overuse include internal stomach bleeding or ulcers.
The risk of bleeding is much higher in older people and in people who take drugs that might interact with anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen.
“And if you’re older, you're more likely to be taking other drugs,” said Dr Jarvis.
“Ibuprofen can also – especially at high doses in the long term – increase blood pressure and possibly increase your risk of heart attack or stroke.
“This risk is theoretically there from day one.”
One study found a 20 per cent higher risk of hospital admission for heart failure in older people who had taken ibuprofen or another NSAID in the previous fortnight.
It is well known that ibuprofen can increase these risks for someone of any age, although the risks are greater in those with existing heart disease.
Dr Jarvis reassured: “The average person who’ll take the occasional dose of ibuprofen who is not at high risk of heart disease and doesn't have indigestion doesn't need to worry.
“But don't take high doses or for more than a few days without doctor's advice, and stop taking it if you develop indigestion.”
She added that there are less risks associated with paracetamol than there are ibuprofen.
But the NHS recognise that for some conditions, such as osteoarthritis and back pain, paracetamol does not work very well alone.
Mr Day said: “Most adults and young people can take ibuprofen, and it’s available in liquid forms for children.”
However, you should ask your doctor before taking ibuprofen if you have had a stomach ulcer, perforation or bleeding.
The NHS recommends you consult your pharmacist or doctor before taking ibuprofen if:
- You’ve had a perforation or bleeding in your stomach, or a stomach ulcer more than once, especially if it was caused by an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug).
- You have a health problem that means you have an increased chance of bleeding.
- You have severe heart failure, kidney failure, or liver failure.
- You’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or trying to get pregnant.
- You have high blood pressure that's not under control, heart disease, mild to moderate heart failure, or have ever had a stroke.
- You have kidney or liver problems, asthma, hay fever or allergies, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, or diabetes.
- You have chickenpox or shingles, or an infection – taking ibuprofen can increase the chance of certain infections and skin reactions.
If in doubt, always speak to a pharmacist or doctor to find out if ibuprofen is right for you, and always read the leaflet in the medicine pack, Mr Day said.
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If you take more than the recommended dose of ibuprofen, you should consult a pharmacist or doctor straight away.
If you’re having difficulty breathing or any other symptoms that concern you, ring 111 as soon as possible for assessment or visit your nearest A+E department.
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