Taking Ibuprofen Might Be A Bad Idea If You Have This Common Medical Condition

Along with spicy food, carbonated beverages, and citrus fruits, those with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) may want to steer clear of ibuprofen. For some people, the painful backflow of stomach acid up into the esophagus that characterizes the condition may only occur every so often. For the 20% of people worldwide affected by GERD, however, ongoing acid reflux (or heartburn) is a chronic condition, explains Johns Hopkins Medicine.

The muscle that facilitates the passage of food from the esophagus to the stomach is called the esophageal sphincter. Once food has made its way through, the sphincter tightly closes up to keep our meal down where it should be. However, if the muscle fails to contract and remains open and relaxed, food and stomach acid can retreat into the esophagus, causing an unpleasant burning sensation. While non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen can be used for mild to moderate pain relief, ibuprofen should not be used for pain or discomfort related to heartburn. For one, GERD is not listed on the drug label as a condition that ibuprofen treats (via StatPearls). In fact, there is evidence to suggest that it may actually exacerbate heartburn, acid reflux, or GERD symptoms.

The link between GERD symptoms and ibuprofen

In a 2008 French study published in Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, researchers identified NSAID use as a potential risk factor for developing GERD. 6,823 questionnaires were assessed by the research team, which revealed that 2,262 adults had used NSAIDs within the last three months. Prevalence rates for acid regurgitation and heartburn symptoms during the three-month period stood at 21%, with older adults being most affected. The average lifetime prevalence rate for GERD was found to be 37%.

Experts at PharmEasy explain that the relationship between ibuprofen and GERD symptoms can be explained by the fact that the medication boosts stomach acid production. Ibuprofen can also cause damage to the lining of the stomach, which may lead to inflammation. It also hinders the production of prostaglandins, which act similarly to hormones and play a role in pain, inflammation, and uterine contractions during one's period (via Cleveland Clinic). Prostaglandins also protect the digestive tract, otherwise leaving you vulnerable to gastrointestinal symptoms.

Other medications that may aggravate heartburn, acid reflux, or GERD symptoms

If you're diagnosed with GERD or experience acid reflux or heartburn, talk to your doctor before taking ibuprofen. The same is true for aspirin or other NSAIDs like Motrin IB or Advil, which can also aggravate the digestive tract (via Mayo Clinic). For some people, acetaminophen may be a better fit, although you'll want to consult with your physician first (via Medical News Today). Over-the-counter (OTC) pain-relief medications aren't the only drugs that can prompt heartburn, however. Both potassium and iron supplements, as well as certain antibiotics, fall into this category. Alternatively, statins, anticholinergics, and certain sedatives or narcotics can stir up symptoms of GERD.

To ease heartburn, try to avoid any known triggers, whether they be certain foods or medications. Treatment options for patients with GERD often include prescription drugs. Implementing certain healthy habits may also help, such as maintaining a healthy weight or trying out this one particularly popular diet. Foods like cottage cheese, yogurt, and milk may be particularly helpful in lessening stomach acid's acidity.