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STDWatch
Hannah Kingston

Oct 23, 20227 min read

Ibuprofen & Kidneys

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Ibuprofen is an over-the-counter pain reliever. It’s sold under several different brand names (including Advil and Motrin), and there are also many generic versions available. Many people reach for ibuprofen for their daily aches and pains, such as an injury, a headache, or a backache.

Although it’s available without a prescription, this doesn’t mean that ibuprofen is entirely safe. Ibuprofen can cause a number of health problems, including damage to the kidneys. What’s the link between ibuprofen and kidney damage? 

Does ibuprofen cause kidney damage?

The link between ibuprofen and kidney disease is well established. In fact, the National Kidney Foundation estimates that 3 to 5% of new cases of kidney failure are caused by overuse of ibuprofen and other medications like it.

Ibuprofen and other medications like it work by blocking an enzyme called cyclooxygenase, or COX. COX is involved in causing inflammation, so blocking COX can help to reduce pain and swelling. However, COX is also important in maintaining blood flow to the kidneys. By blocking COX, ibuprofen can interfere with blood flow to the kidneys. This leads to kidney damage over time.

Does ibuprofen cause kidney stones?

There are a number of medications that can lead to kidney stones, including certain antibiotics (ciprofloxacin and sulfa drugs), the nasal decongestant ephedrine, and the antiviral medication indinavir. However, ibuprofen is not known to cause kidney stones. It can definitely cause damage to the kidney, but isn’t associated with kidney stones specifically.

In fact, ibuprofen is fairly commonly used to relieve symptoms in people who are suffering from a kidney stone, and studies have shown that it’s effective in relieving the symptoms experienced by many people while they’re waiting for a kidney stone to pass.

What dose causes kidney damage from ibuprofen?

When you take too much ibuprofen, kidney damage can result. But how much ibuprofen is too much? What dose is safe for your kidneys?

For adults (age 12 and up) who are taking this medication over-the-counter, then the maximum safe dose is 1200mg per day. Ibuprofen usually comes in 200mg pills or capsules, so that’s a maximum of six pills per day. You can take up to two pills at a time, every four to six hours, but you need to ensure that you don’t go over six pills in a single day. It’s also recommended that you take it for a maximum of ten days. If the condition you’re using it for isn’t better in ten days, then you’ll need to talk with your doctor to discuss other treatment options.

There are some cases where doctors prescribe ibuprofen, or a medication similar to ibuprofen. They may use doses that are higher than this maximum safe over-the-counter dose. In this case, the doctor will monitor your kidney function on a regular basis to ensure that the medication is not causing kidney damage. If your doctor has prescribed ibuprofen to you, then you should follow their directions in taking the medication. If you have concerns about the safety of the drug, then you should discuss this with your doctor.

In the early stages of kidney disease, many people don’t have any symptoms. Concerning symptoms often don’t appear until the later stages of the disease. If you’re concerned that ibuprofen may have caused damage to your kidneys, the only way to know for sure is to get your kidney function tested. You can visit your doctor to discuss your concerns, or order a home test to check your kidney function.

Sources

Canker E, Serinken M, et al. Intravenous paracetamol vs ibuprofen in renal colic: a randomised, double-blind, controlled clinical trial. Urolithiasis. 2018 Aug;46(4):369-373. doi: 10.1007/s00240-017-0997-7

Horl WH. Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs and the Kidney. Pharmaceuticals (Basel). 2010 Jul; 3(7): 2291–2321. doi: 10.3390/ph3072291

Matlaga BR, Shah OD, et al. Drug-Induced Urinary Calculi. Rev Urol. 2003 Fall; 5(4): 227–231.

Pain Medicines (Analgesics). National Kidney Foundation. https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/painmeds_analgesics. Accessed 24 June 2022.


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