Ibuprofen 3x day/ for 3 days?
March 26, 2014 5:57 PM   Subscribe

YANMD.... As I get older my menstrual cramps seem to be getting worse. How often / how long can I take ibuprofen every month without it being an issue?

I used to be able to take 1-2 ibuprofen only when I had really bad cramps, but generally could make it through my period without needing a lot. The past year or so, it's crept up so that now I take up to the max recommended dosage of 6 pills a day, for 3-4 days in a row so that my workday doesn't suck real bad.

Am I doing any damage to myself by doing this? I space the pills out (the bottle says don't exceed 6 pills in 24 hours, so I usually divide by 8 hours... 2 pills at 7am, 2 at 3pm, and 2 at 11pm though I try to just do one at bedtime sometimes. Lately if I don't take pills before bed, I'll wake up in the middle of the night with bad cramps.

The bottle just says 'if you take them more than 10 days, consult your doctor' but I feel like taking the max dosage every day for 3-4 days in a row, every month might not be that great either.

FWIW I am not on any sort of birth control. I'm aware that this can reduce cramps but since I don't need birth control for actual contraception, I don't currently feel like my period is bad enough to take BC just for the side effects.

I am kind of a fretful person about taking medication and I know YANMD but just curious if other people routinely do this, have had any issues or have had a medical professional tell them not to do this.
posted by nakedmolerats to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
IANAD, but from personal experience, you're taking an amount where I would start to be concerned about it eventually wreaking havoc on your stomach. I would at least make sure you're having a bit of food and a full glass of water along with each dose.
posted by Pizzarina Sbarro at 6:02 PM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

The biggest problem people have with ibuprofen (and other NSAIDs) is stomach trouble. If your stomach feels OK (not painful, no nausea) then I think you're fine.
posted by shiny blue object at 6:02 PM on March 26, 2014

If you have the standard 200mg pills, you're well below the 3200mg max daily dose. As mentioned above, stomach bleeding can be an issue, so take it with food or milk.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 6:17 PM on March 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

Take B100 vitamins (I buy 'em from Trader Joe's). I used to get unbelievable cramps since I was young- I was traveling on a plane a few years back & read a health magazine that suggested taking B vitamins (I thought why not, I've tried everything else, including 800 mg ibuprofen horse size pills, which ended up giving me terrible acid reflux problems among other things).

Long story short, the B vitamins saved my life. Take them a day or two before your time, and see what they do for you. B100 (as opposed to B complex) works best, IMHO.
posted by readygo at 6:18 PM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Extended use of high doses of ibuprofen can cause kidney damage. I've seen it, mostly in those who take extended courses of high doses. I would suggest you speak with your doctor if this is a monthly problem for guidance in your situation, and if you have known renal insufficiency I'd avoid NSAIDS altogether. In fact, if you have chronic renal insufficiency, you've probably already been advised about it. The stomach problems (erosions or ulceration in the stomach) are a separate potential problem.

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) has its own risks, of liver damage. In the practice where I work, we sometimes suggest alternating acetaminophen with NSAIDS, which reduces the exposure to both medications and can work well for pain.

The advice to stay well hydrated is good advice, especially when using either medication.
posted by citygirl at 6:19 PM on March 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yeah, that's a bit. You definitely need to take them with something in your stomach, as that's one of the main concerns with ibuprofen. You could also try sodium naproxen (brand names: naprosyn, naprogesic, alleve). It's still the same kind of thing as ibuprofen (NSAID) so you want to space it out and not take it on an empty stomach, but I find it's more effective on period pain than plain ibuprofen.

I am on the pill not for contraceptive purposes, and I have to say it has greatly diminished my period pain and also the heaviness/duration of the period itself. Definitely consult your doctor on the subject.
posted by Athanassiel at 6:19 PM on March 26, 2014

Here are some suggestions from someone with terrible cramps due to endometriosis and ovarian cysts. 1. IMO, naproxen works better than ibuprofen. 2. If you have a regular cycle, taking the NSAID the day BEFORE your period starts can really alleviate cramps. 3. The stick on heat pads are awesome, if you want some unsolicited, non-BC cramp advice.
posted by Ruki at 6:22 PM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm a pharmacist and I get horrible menstrual cramps.

For a young healthy person, there aren't huge risks associated with ibuprofen. Tylenol is another story -- NEVER take more tylenol (acetaminophen, aka paracetamol) than it says on the bottle. You risk serious liver damage if you do that.

But doctors routinely use big doses of ibuprofen. It comes as a prescription-strength 800mg tablet, which would be the same as FOUR of the tablets you get OTC. My obgyn actually has me taking huge doses of ibuprofen for cramps -- and she said the same thing as Ruki, to start before the pain. This makes sense because ibuprofen stops your body from making prostaglandins (pain messengers) and it's better to stop them before they start.

Unfortunately, it also stops your body from making the prostaglandins that create a protective gel in your stomach lining, so big doses of nsaids can lead to ulcers. And it's a blood-thinner so there can be bleeding ulcers. Not good.

You aren't taking more than it says on the bottle, so you are fine. Taking it for several days in a row every month is exactly what my obgyn told me to do, so hopefully that makes you feel better about it!
posted by selfmedicating at 6:43 PM on March 26, 2014 [10 favorites]

Just check that you don't have high blood pressure.

I have high blood pressure. One of the symptoms (although I did not know it) was "tension headaches" and neck pain. Until being diagnosed, I used Ibuprofen to combat my headaches.

I learned, though, that Ibuprofen is actually dangerous for people with high blood pressure, so, since being diagnosed, I have stopped taking pain medication.

Luckily my high blood pressure medications, combined with a low-sodium diet and weight loss have lowered my blood pressure, and my headaches have disappeared.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:46 PM on March 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

I average about 12 Advil a day for the first three days of my period every month. My doctor knows and says it is fine for me, as long as I'm not going nuts with it for the rest of the month.
posted by joan_holloway at 6:48 PM on March 26, 2014

I used to do this for the first day of my period; actually, I was taking more than 6 on that single day, per month. For years. I did ask and no doctor ever told me to stop, but eventually I developed an ulcer. I'm not saying that the ulcer was caused by the ibuprofen, there were other possible contributing factors, but it surely didn't help.

I now have an IUD, and no period/no cramps, which has been magical (even with breakthrough bleeding.)
posted by sm1tten at 6:49 PM on March 26, 2014

Just another vote here for trying naproxen. Ibuprofen's done nothing for me; naproxen was a game-changer. At fairly low doses, even.
posted by kmennie at 6:54 PM on March 26, 2014

Seconding/thirding Ruki and kmennie. Prescription strength naproxen, and heating pads, were life changing for me and my severe cramps (without it I was bedridden and vomiting for the first 36 hours of every period.) Ibuprofen never did much for me.
posted by gudrun at 7:01 PM on March 26, 2014

It may seem counterintuitive, but back when I was trying to be more disciplined about my exercise, I found that running helped a lot with period pain.

Also warm drinks and heating pads might help to supplement the ibuprofen.

Have you talked to your doc about this change? It could be just a matter of getting older, but if it's a vitamin deficiency or something similar that can be addressed, that's the sort of thing it would be good to know.
posted by bunderful at 7:12 PM on March 26, 2014

Count me as yet another person who was told by my doctor that taking that much ibuprofen during my period was fine, as long as I took it on a full stomach. Though I agree with the others above that naproxen works way better for period pain, and works miracles if you can take it the day before your period. I take two the day before or the first day of my period, and maybe take one more 12 hours later if I still have pain, which I usually don't.
posted by yasaman at 7:30 PM on March 26, 2014

My gynecologist also told me to take lots of NSAIDs, 3 Advil every 5-6 hours. You are taking it to stop the production of prostaglandins so you do need to take it before the cramps get really bad. I buy the big family-size jugs of liquigels. Aleve gives me incredible stomach pains.

After I got whiplash I got a prescription for flexeril/cyclobenzaprine, a muscle relaxer, and those are AMAZING, too, and it helps cut down on how much Advil I have to take. I never had any luck with the "psycho" muscle relaxers like Xanax.

Other things that I consistently rely on are Thermacare lower back heat wraps (I alternate between having the heat on my abdomen and lower back) and surprisingly tampons—I can actually very accurately tell when my tampon is full because I start to cramp up. But that could just be mental/placebo.

Birth control pills never made enough of a difference to make it worth the side effects.
posted by thebazilist at 8:21 PM on March 26, 2014

I'm in my 40s and have experienced the same thing, my cramps are getting worse as I age. What has made a huge difference for me is Calcium Magnesium supplements. I take 2 every night, but in the day or two before my period starts i double up on my Cal-mags. My cramps have improved dramatically.
posted by bearswife at 8:47 PM on March 26, 2014

Ibruprofen doesn't even come close to what Naproxen can do for menstrual cramps. Heating pads are also A++.
posted by Munching Langolier at 8:50 PM on March 26, 2014

Just chiming in to say that in my case, that kind of dosage did become an issue. Since I was a teenager, I took Ibuprofen for a few days every month, never exceeding the recommended dosage, but sometimes on an empty stomach, because who wants to eat when awakened by pain in the middle of the night? After about 20 years I ended up developing a minor allergy to both Ibuprofen and Naproxen. Now I have to use Aspirin and Tylenol for pain, and they absolutely pale in comparison.
posted by oxisos at 9:34 PM on March 26, 2014

I've never been told this by a doctor, but from my own reading have learned that NSAIDs have potential to negatively impact musculoskeletal healing (can't handily link from phone but if you want to freak yourself out, which I don't recommend, you can Google ligament + healing + ibuprofen). With that said, if I didn't take weapons-grade NSAIDs, I'd be nonfunctional two days of the month for period-related pain, and one or two more for other kinds of aches. I flip between a prescription and Advil, depending on how bad it is.

For the period pain though, definitely second taking ibuprofen a day or so beforehand. When I've done this (2 days before is better for me, every 4 hours or so), I've been able to just use Advil, and haven't been, for example, woken up at 4am by wrenching cramps. Key to this is a good tracker - I use Period Tracker on Android. Unsure if it works on all platforms but there are a few apps like that around.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:25 PM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Go ahead and take them for now, but at your next obgyn/doctor visit, bring this up, along with a list of your other medications and ask the doctor if you need to worry. Basically, you can get away with several months of taking ibuprofen for a few days regularly, but if you plan on doing this for years, you should double-check with a doctor. I just switched migraine meds for this reason because I'm on bloodthinners, and I can't take ibuprofen as often as I was, but the doctor wasn't worried about a high dose for a while, only long-term.
posted by viggorlijah at 1:01 AM on March 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have incredible cramps due to endometriosis, and I take 4 Advil (800mg) every 5-6 hours during the worst 3ish days of my (truly dreadful) period on the advice of every gyno I've ever had.

I often start taking 2 Advil every 6 hours a day or so before (if I know when my period is going to start, which endo makes very iffy) for the afore-mentioned prostaglandin inhibiting action.

800mg every 6 hours is the old-school Rx dosage for Ibuprofen, which is why this is a standard recommendation for conditions like mine. 3200mg/day is the limit I adhere to. Be sure to eat before you take it this kind of dosage, and taper down as soon as you can, but don't suffer unnecessarily. Naproxen doesn't do much for me, but it's worth trying out, as has been mentioned. The point is, don't suffer, from cramps or fretting, if you don't have to.
posted by mostlymartha at 2:02 AM on March 27, 2014

Just as a data point: my cramps were very much decreased when I switched from tampons to a menstrual cup. They were just a shadow of their former selves and have remained so ever since.
posted by Too-Ticky at 3:04 AM on March 27, 2014

Lots of great advice here. I just want to mention, as others have alluded to, that pain is something you want to get ahead of. You are treating a cyclical event, so, as cotton dress sock suggested, track it and take naproxen beforehand...it's SO much easier to manage pain on the front end vs. the back end. Lots of iPhone apps for this (usually labeled for conception but I use them for anti-pregnancy).
posted by Punctual at 6:18 AM on March 27, 2014

I overdid the ibuprofen several years back and it did a number on my stomach and took a while to get back to normal, you're still taking less in a month than I was but you can do some damage given that you're doing it all within a week.

I think the bigger issue is you're experiencing severe pain that may be preventable. Bad cramps/menstrual pain (and bleeding a lot) can be an indication of a hormonal imbalance, it's related to stress, diet, and exercise. I have greatly reduced how bad my cramps are using Lorna Vanderhaege's Estrosmart. It's about $20/month for the supplements (you take 2-4 daily) but it worked for me within a few months. You have to keep taking them though. Now I barely feel my period starting whereas before I'd be in a lot of pain for the first few days.
posted by lafemma at 11:35 AM on March 27, 2014

Evening primrose oil helps cut down on cramps so you can take less painkillers. Start taking it a few days before and throughout your period.
posted by tenaciousmoon at 5:56 PM on March 27, 2014

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