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9 Times Ibuprofen Won’t Work—And Could Be Dangerous

Reader's Digest Logo By Joanne Chen of Reader's Digest | Slide 1 of 10: Die-hard athletes sometimes take an Advil before, say, a long run. But that may be, at best, a waste of time and potentially harmful at worst. 'Painkillers are a chemical Band-Aid,' says Lillie Rosenthal, DO, a medical advisory board member at MedShadow Foundation, a nonprofit group that educates patients on long-term drug safety and efficacy. 'You have to listen to the body and figure out the cause,' says Dr. Rosenthal, who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation. With ibuprofen muting the pain, you may not know if you're overexerting yourself or it may prevent you from slowing down or getting help when it's needed.

What's more, if you're working out extremely hard—as in ultramarathon hard—taking ibuprofen can exacerbate the kidney damage that's sparked by rigorous exercise. In a 2017 BMJ Emergency Medicine paper, ultramarathoners who took ibuprofen over the course of 50 miles (for a total of 1200 mg) were about 18 percent more likely to experience acute kidney injury than those who took a placebo. Extreme workouts tax the kidneys by drawing blood to the muscles for a prolonged period of time; taking ibuprofen—which reduces prostaglandins, which then, in turn, diverts blood flow from the kidney—exerts a double whammy on the kidneys.

What's more, an ibuprofen may not even be that helpful. In a small 2015 study published in the Journal of Athletic Training, researchers rounded up experienced runners, had them do a baseline workout, and then induced muscle pain in their legs through strenuous exercise (ouch!). Later, the subjects were either given ibuprofen or placebo and then told to do a follow-up workout. The difference? Essentially, none. One possible reason, say the researchers, may be that the drug's effect on the heart may compromise oxygen uptake and negate any gains in pain reduction.

Athletes call it 'Vitamin I.' Women with menstrual cramps depend upon it. But scientists are beginning to realize that ibuprofen may not be as benign as we thought. Click through the gallery above to find out when you should just say no.

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