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Ibuprofen is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), an over-the-counter (OTC) medication in the same class of drugs as naproxen and aspirin. Ibuprofen treats pain, fever, and inflammation.
If you’re like most Americans, you likely have some type of ibuprofen in your home medicine cabinet. Common ibuprofen brand names include Motrin, Midol, and Advil. Generic versions are also available, as are children’s liquid products with reduced dosages. Ibuprofen is also an ingredient in many cold, cough, and allergy medicines.
Like any drug, if ibuprofen is taken in higher than recommended doses, it can harm your health. Overuse of ibuprofen can seriously damage your digestive system, interfere with your hormones, and increase your risk of heart attacks and stroke. In some cases, ibuprofen overdose can be deadly.
Accidental ibuprofen poisoning occurs at a discomforting rate among both adults and children: the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) managed more than 2.7 million poison cases in the U.S. in 2016 alone.
How to Avoid Ibuprofen Poisoning
According to the National Capital Poison Center (NCPC), your best defense against accidental overuse of ibuprofen is prevention:
Before taking ibuprofen, always review the front and back labels. Look for:
- The name of the drug (brand or generic) to confirm that ibuprofen is the active ingredient you or your loved one is taking
- What form the drug is in—liquid, tablet, gummies, suppository, or spray
- What the drug does not contain—children, for example, should never be given any medication with alcohol or aspirin in it, reports the NCPC
- What age range the medication is intended for
- Whether or not the medication is flavored - children’s medications are often made sweeter to make them more palatable, but this can dangerous if kids mistake flavored chewable tablets or gummies for candy
- Dosage information from the “Drug Facts” section on the labeling
- How much the container holds when it’s full
Knowing these details about an ibuprofen product helps you better understand how to safely use it, when not to use it, and how much medication has already been ingested.
After reading the label, take the smallest amount possible that will relieve your symptoms, and only take ibuprofen as long as you need it.
Even the most conscientious of parents or caregivers can mistakenly give a child too much ibuprofen. This is why it’s also essential to set up a medication schedule when a child is ill. Every person in the household who administers an ibuprofen product to treat a child should be asked to mark down when how much ibuprofen was given.
How to Tell if an Overdose has Occurred (and what to do)
Common, normal side effects of ibuprofen include stomach upset, indigestion, and cramping. These minor side effects will usually go away after a short amount of time according to the NCPC. It’s best to take these medications with a light snack or a glass of milk to minimize these symptoms.
Recognizing when you or your loved one is experiencing an overdose is vital. Although ibuprofen is a typically safe medication when used correctly, it can poison the body if large enough amounts are ingested.
Signs of ibuprofen overdose include:
- Ringing in the ears
- Blurred vision
- Nausea and vomiting
- Low blood pressure and weakness
- Damage to the kidneys, with little to no urine produced
- Agitation or confusion
- Ulcers and bleeding in the stomach
- Severe drowsiness or even coma
Older people and anyone with medication allergies or issues processing nutrients can be at higher risk for ibuprofen overdose. Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about how your health might be affected by ibuprofen.
If you believe you or someone you’re caring for has taken too much ibuprofen or is showing signs of poisoning which appear to be serious or life-threatening, please call 911 immediately. If you’re uncertain about what to do, or the situation is unclear and you have questions, contact: