New Ibuprofen Allergy - Ouch!
December 11, 2009 8:01 AM   Subscribe

I've recently developed an allergy to ibuprofen...Symptoms: swollen and sore tongue. Questions: a) Is there an equally effective drug for menstrual cramps? b) Chance of worsening symptoms/permanent damage if I continue to take it? SEE INSIDE FOR DETAILS

An allergy, or a side effect that didn't affect me before--call it what you will. After the first dose wears off is when it begins: my tongue, usually only on one side at a time, swells slightly and becomes very sore, both to move and to touch. It feels almost exactly like a bad canker sore or cut on my tongue, and during the worse occurrences affects my speech somewhat (due to the swelling). It lasts for a few days after the last dose is taken, and then just goes away.

My actual question is a two-parter:
1) I am of the female persuasion, and most months have moderate to severe menstrual cramps. Ibuprofen is my drug of choice for the cramps; it's the only thing that works for me (my gynecologist told me that it not only relieves pain, but that it lessens the severity of the actual uterine convulsions if you stay dosed--I've found that to be true, and it has been a blessing in 600mg doses). Is there any other drug, OTC or prescription, that does the same thing, or works well for other women? I'd prefer something that doesn't make me loopy, but beggars can't be choosers.

2) If I can't find a substitute, I may decide that having an annoyingly painful tongue for a few days is better than being incapacitated by cramps for the same amount of time. If I come to that conclusion, will I be endangering myself by continuing, periodically, to ingest a substance that my body doesn't like? Is there permanent damage that can be done?

I can't find much on the Internet about it, and no longer have insurance so I can't ask my doctor. Any feedback from MeFite MDs or people with the same experience would be much appreciated. Thanks!
posted by SixteenTons to Health & Fitness (44 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Have you taken more than one brand of ibuprofen? I suppose it's possible that you're actually allergic to the coating.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:04 AM on December 11, 2009

IANAD, but I would think that any non-steroidal anti-inflammatory would work. NSAID=Ibuprofen, Aspirin and Naproxen.
posted by jckll at 8:05 AM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

acetaminophen? (tylenol)
posted by Neekee at 8:09 AM on December 11, 2009

All the same brand, and from the same bottle that I was using before the reaction started...unfortunately it's my body that's changed and not the pills.
posted by SixteenTons at 8:10 AM on December 11, 2009

As a long-time sufferer of incapacitating cramps, I've always had excellent luck with Naproxen (Aleve).
posted by spinturtle at 8:10 AM on December 11, 2009

Have you tried Doan's (magnesium salicylate)?
posted by hermitosis at 8:12 AM on December 11, 2009

I have an Implanon implant, which gets rid of a) periods, b) cramps and c) fertility for three years.

Obviously YMMV on this one, but it's worked fantastically well on all the above points for me.
posted by emilyw at 8:14 AM on December 11, 2009

Neekee, Tylenol does nothing for the cramps.

jckll, I was thinking about trying Naproxen next month.
posted by SixteenTons at 8:15 AM on December 11, 2009

Seconding Aleve. It's the only thing that keeps me functioning during my period.
posted by cooker girl at 8:16 AM on December 11, 2009

hermitosis, I haven't tried Doan's...I'll put that on the list.
posted by SixteenTons at 8:18 AM on December 11, 2009

Yeah, for cramps the only thing that really does it for me is Aleve. Ibuprofen just doesn't really work.
posted by Cygnet at 8:19 AM on December 11, 2009

My sister is allergic to Advil, and she takes Aleve for cramps and for fevers. (As do I, it's the only thing that controls my wild cramps).
posted by bluefly at 8:20 AM on December 11, 2009

So far, sounds like Aleve/Naproxen is my best option...thanks, everyone!
posted by SixteenTons at 8:28 AM on December 11, 2009

If I can't find a substitute, I may decide that having an annoyingly painful tongue for a few days is better than being incapacitated by cramps for the same amount of time. If I come to that conclusion, will I be endangering myself by continuing, periodically, to ingest a substance that my body doesn't like? Is there permanent damage that can be done?

DO NOT continue taking a drug if you're allergic to it. Drug allergies often increase with severity over time: that is, taking it next time will cause a more severe reaction than the first time.

That swelling you're feeling in your tongue is an early, mild sign. It often quickly escalates to swelling of the tongue, face, and throat, and can lead to your airway swelling shut (anaphylactic shock). That, needless to say, is a very bad thing.

Things you should do:

1) for the love of pete, stop taking ibuprofen now.

2) make sure your medical records reflect that you're allergic to ibuprofen, and let your SO/family members know too. If you're hurt too badly to respond, they need to be able to let emergency personel know not to give you ibuprofen in any form.

3) Talk to your doctor and consider keeping an epi pen around. They're cheap, easy to use, and if you inadvertently take some ibuprofen and do have anaphylaxis, a quick stab with one could save your life.
posted by chrisamiller at 8:28 AM on December 11, 2009 [5 favorites]

Although not OTC, a very low dose of antidepressants can help (around 1/4 pill per day during half of your cycle, just enough serotonin to loosen those muscles). It can actually be more cost-effective than the OTC drugs if you get a generic off the $4 lists.

Anecdotally, red raspberry tea really does help if taken regularly twice a day, though I'm not sure it would be enough of an effect on its own for really severe cramps.
posted by susanvance at 8:31 AM on December 11, 2009

Are you on birth control pills? Many women (including me) find that getting on the right dose of hormones (you may have to try a few brands to find one that works) dramatically reduces cramps and discomfort.

Also, I would not recommend continuing to take ibuprofen. Even if the symptoms are mild and manageable now, they can become more severe with subsequent exposures, and anaphylaxis and other life-threatening symptoms are a risk any time you're exposed to your allergen. Stay away from it.
posted by decathecting at 8:32 AM on December 11, 2009

Hey! My tongue does that too! How weird - I never thought it was the Ibuprophen, but it could very well be. Will watch this with interest.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 8:32 AM on December 11, 2009

Oh, and birth control pills can be obtained cheaply or free from your local women's health clinic. An exam should cost $50 or less, and you can get generic pills at many chain stores for $4. You could spend less on this than you've been spending on OTC painkillers, if it works.
posted by decathecting at 8:33 AM on December 11, 2009

Going on hormonal birth control basically has made cramps a thing of the past for me.
posted by radioamy at 8:43 AM on December 11, 2009

chrisamiller, I will stop taking it (I so love pete). How do I add that to my chart? Do I just call my doctor (my old doctor--since I no longer have insurance and it's an insurance-run facility (Kaiser Permanente), will they still talk to me and do that for me?)?
posted by SixteenTons at 8:45 AM on December 11, 2009

I have had bad experiences with every form of hormonal birth control I've tried, so I try to stay away from it. Incidentally, I have the copper IUD now and am very happy with it.

susanvance: The low-dose andidepressant sounds interesting, though I am slightly superstitious about SSRIs (I assume you're talking about SSRIs--correct me if I'm wrong in that assumption). If I end up having trouble with the Naproxen, too, I will ask about antidepressants. Too severe for raspberry tea.
posted by SixteenTons at 8:51 AM on December 11, 2009

I just wanted to point out that this is a cross-sensitivity allergy for many people. The boyfriend has this (hives all over his body, in his case) and he cannot take any NSAIDS (so no Naproxen or aspirin) or anything else containing salicylates which includes, weirdly, Pepto-bismol. I would talk to your doctor, at the very least, before trying Naproxen.
posted by hydropsyche at 8:56 AM on December 11, 2009

Good point, hydropsyche.
posted by SixteenTons at 9:16 AM on December 11, 2009

Re: the cramps...
My sister swears by an OTC progesterone lotion. She uses it for 2 weeks befoe her period, and cramps are hugely diminished.

Just a thought.

But, yeah, stay off the ibuprofen. That is a serious reaction.
posted by SLC Mom at 9:21 AM on December 11, 2009

Like hydropsyche, I also know someone who is allergic to all NSAIDs (my mom). It started with Aleve, and now she can't take anything containing any NSAID. I know acetaminophen doesn't work well for cramps - your doctor will have the best recommendation for a non-NSAID cramp-reducer (maybe Vicodin or a muscle relaxant?). Another thing I found to be helpful are stick-on heat patches - like a heating pad, but you can wear them all day, under your clothes.
posted by melissasaurus at 9:24 AM on December 11, 2009

Another thing besides the systemic meds that helps me with cramps is heat. There are menstrual-cramp specific Thermacare wraps (usually located somewhere in the feminine products aisle, not the pain care aisle) that you can wear for 8 hours under your clothes. I find them really, really helpful. (jinx melissasaurus!)
posted by sarahnade at 9:25 AM on December 11, 2009

The point that restless_namad raised about the coatings is still valid; you've developed this allergy for one bottle of ipuprofen. Although aspirin/ibuprofen/aleve are all chemically related for the active ingredient, your problem may not turn up if you're reacting to an inactive ingredient. I wouldn't go buy a 500-tab family size bottle of Aleve, but I think it would be worth a shot to try it once and see if your reaction is better. (with a local friend/coworker knowing what's going on in case it's actually worse)

good luck!
posted by aimedwander at 9:45 AM on December 11, 2009

I get really super duper bad cramps and my Dr gives me 500mg Naprosyn x 2 a day.
Honestly smoking a joint of medical marijuana (indica strain) does just as good (both together is excellent).
posted by smartypantz at 9:53 AM on December 11, 2009

Also coming in here to recommend the naproxen. But just a little warning about the Thermacare heat patches - they can burn your skin.

It says to not sleep with them or leave them on for more than eight hours, but one burned me out of the blue one day in less time than that. Got a small open wound, blister, and sore red skin. It didn't heal until long after the period was gone.

I still use them sometimes, but just be careful and check it now and then.
posted by cmgonzalez at 10:13 AM on December 11, 2009

To elaborate on the SSRI method -- I haven't tried it personally, but am considering it as my doctor mentioned it during my physical just last week. It is definitely an off-label usage, but she's seen good results with it.

I was a bit suspicious too, but the doses are nothing like those prescribed for depression, and seem much less severe overall than taking a serious muscle relaxant. I'm personally going to try upping my daily exercise levels and yoga practice first (her other recommendation), but may add the SSRI in a month or two if I don't see results.
posted by susanvance at 10:18 AM on December 11, 2009

What about going to Planned Parenthood? I got free everything from them while I was sans insurance. I honestly could not have made it through that period (no pun intended) of my life, had I not gotten all the help I did from PP. The nurse practitioner there may be able to tell you what might be a good alternative for you if you're allergic to ibuprofen, AND warn you about anything potentially dangerous in taking naproxen.

I use a combination of several previously mentioned solutions. I'm taking the pill (which has lightened my period significantly, but has NOT put any kind of dent in the cramps), and I can predict *when* the cramps will start now, so I can pre-medicate myself with Aleve--which prevents some of the chemicals which actually trigger the cramps from developing in the muscles (similar to what you mentioned about ibuprofen--same principle). For the remaining little bouts of pain, I love those heat wraps.
posted by so_gracefully at 10:23 AM on December 11, 2009

Thanks for the elaboration, susanvance. Very interesting. I'll ask about it (hoping to have insurance again soon).
posted by SixteenTons at 10:24 AM on December 11, 2009

Nthing Aleve/naproxen. Only thin that works for me. But TAKE IT WITH FOOD or you will regret it.
posted by mmw at 10:34 AM on December 11, 2009

(that would be "thing" ... )
posted by mmw at 10:34 AM on December 11, 2009

Oh, and for Aleve, as you also mention with ibuprofen and as so_gracefully notes, you need to stay ahead of the pain.

Hope you're not allergic to all NSAIDS ...
posted by mmw at 10:38 AM on December 11, 2009

My sympathies, both on the cramps and the allergy.

Discontinue the ibuprofen immediately. Swollen tongues can quickly block your airway. And be very careful with other types of NSAIDS like naproxen and aspirin. (You don't have asthma, do you? Some people with asthma find they are allergic to NSAIDs.)

There are good, non-narcotic pain relievers like tramadol out there. Instead of reducing inflammation like an NSAID, tramadol works to block pain messages to the brain. Ultracet is a brand name of tramadol with Tylenol. It's by prescription only in the US. I did get slightly woozy from it, but it's nowhere near as bad as, say, a muscle relaxer is, which makes me want to fall over and go night-night. I've used Ultracet after foot surgery (I'm allergic to vicodin) and have had excellent results. Ultracet is available in generic form now and so the cost is pretty low.

Also, taking a birth control pill, light exercise through the cramps and heating pads can help cramping... but you probably already know that. I hope you feel better.
posted by FergieBelle at 11:01 AM on December 11, 2009

Thanks, FergieBelle. No on the asthma--no respiratory problems [knocking on virtual wood]. Ultracet is now on the list.
posted by SixteenTons at 11:07 AM on December 11, 2009

I know of someone who takes Hyoscyamine for menstrual cramps - nothing else seems to work. IMNAD, so you should consult with one first, I'd think, before you consider taking it. It's another alternative, should you not find anything else effective.
posted by VikingSword at 11:47 AM on December 11, 2009

my MD advice:

1. You CANNOT take Naproxen if you are allergic to ibuprofen. They are both NSAID's. Unfortunately, you now need to stay away from all NSAID's. Others have already said this, but I can't stress enough how much you need to stop taking ibuprofen if you've been experiencing tongue swelling - this is a very dangerous reaction that can have fatal consquences.

2. The copper IUD may be part of your problem. A common side effect of the copper IUD is more painful periods with heavier bleeding. You've said that hormonal birth control hasn't worked for you, but the IUD that contains progesterone is extremely low dose since it works locally on your ovaries and uterus, meaning that you don't end up with it in your general circulation so side effects are minimized. However, the progesterone-containing IUD does have the pleasant side effect of lighter, less painful periods (or sometimes no period at all)

3. Tylenol is worth a try, although may not do the trick for you. Otherwise your OTC options are tapped

4. I would re-consider the Pill if I were you. Did you try several different ones before you decided that hormonal contraception is not for you? Sometimes it just takes some trial and error to find a good fit.

5. Beyond NSAID's and the Pill, we start getting into more extreme territory, medically speaking, so I can't make any other suggestions without knowing you. If your periods are really out of control with lots and lots of bleeding and severe cramps or if you have painful bleeding between periods then you might want to consider an ultrasound to investigate fibroids, which are a very common cause of these symptoms. I know you don't have a doctor right now, but maybe keep that in mind for the future if this continues or gets worse. There are lots of treatments directed towards fibroids so something to consider. Another thought would be endometriosis which would also require an ultrasound and has specific treatment options as well.

Good luck, and please stay off the NSAID's!
posted by thelaze at 11:47 AM on December 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Thanks, thelaze. Yes, I have tried enough different forms of hormonal birth control to make me not want to try any more. My periods with the copper IUD are no worse than they were before I got it, so I don't think that's the's not a new thing, and any gynecologist I've ever gone to seems to think there's nothing wrong with me--I just have severe cramping (not every month, though--some are worse than others). They're not like the prom scene in Carrie, either, and no out-of-season bleeding.
posted by SixteenTons at 12:36 PM on December 11, 2009

One free resource you can use without having insurance is your local pharmacist. Others have mentioned that if you are allergic to Advil, you may be allergic to other NSAIDS/salicylates. It would be a good idea to mention your new-found allergy to a pharmacist, ask what other medications you should avoid, and see if they have any other suggestions for OTC pain killers you can take.
posted by geeky at 12:39 PM on December 11, 2009

I'm not supposed to have ibuprofen either. I treat any menstrual symptoms with heating pads. I've also had lots of success supplementing my diet with omega-3s and reducing consumption of empty carbs and omega-6 vegetable oils. I follow the paleo diet now and have very short almost painless periods. I went back to eating crap a few months ago and my period sucked, but the heating pads worked OK. It's a bizarre and maybe extreme solution, but my life is much better now and I still have cake if it's someone's birthday or something.
posted by melissam at 1:17 PM on December 11, 2009

Have you ever tried marijuana? It supposedly alleviates menstrual cramps for some women, might be worth a try if you're not opposed to using it.
posted by mareli at 1:21 PM on December 11, 2009

Another NSAID sometimes prescribed for menstrual cramps is Cataflam.
posted by tigrrrlily at 7:13 PM on December 11, 2009

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