But, can it KILL you? Runners and NSAIDs

I used to be one of those people, you know, the kind who pops an aspirin or a pain reliever at the slightest hint of pain. My life is busy, busy, busy, and I refuse to let pain interfere. A few aspirin every now and then can’t hurt me right? You know how it is, you’re just about to head out for a long run and your knee is nagging you or you feel a little stiffness in your ankle so you pop a couple of ibuprofen, no big deal, right?



My Mother has a friend who had a family member in her early 30’s. This woman had 3 children and as far as I know she was in good health. The only medicine she took was acetaminophen, (Tylenol) and she took it regularly. Unfortunately, it killed her. When my Mother told me about this woman it scared me. It could’ve easily been me. I had been a frequent user of Ibuprofen and even though I had stopped taking them regularly, I wondered how dangerous NSAIDs actually were. I researched it and I asked a few doctors and I found out that NSAIDs can cause serious health problems, and I also found out that as a runner, the risk may be even greater.

If you’ve never heard about runners who became seriously ill or died after taking ibuprofen, you can read about an incidence that happened here, or another one that happened here.

I’m obviously not a doctor but I wanted to share with you the info that I found. If you use any type of NSAIDs on a regular basis and you are also a runner or you work out regularly, you may want to check with your doctor to make sure it’s safe to continue taking them.

NSAIDs, (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) such as Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen and Aspirin work by inhibiting the enzyme cyclooxygenase which helps to reduce pain, fever and inflammation. NSAIDs serve a purpose and can be helpful in a lot of situations but they are generally bad for runners, especially long distance runners. In some cases, they can be deadly.

NSAIDs inhibit Prostaglandins. Prostaglandins help protect the lining of the stomach and intestines by inhibiting the secretion of acid. NSAIDs can alter that balance resulting in some pretty bad stomach cramps or worse. Repeated use of NSAIDs has been known to cause stomach ulcers. Acetaminophen does not have the same risk for ulcers but it comes with a set of other problems as it’s been linked to liver damage.

Prostaglandins also help to normalize blood flow to the kidneys. Impaired blood flow caused by NSAIDs and paired with dehydration could cause serious kidney issues.

NSAIDs can also raise your blood pressure. Blood Pressure naturally rises with strenuous exercise so if you add NSAIDs into the mix and if you already have high blood pressure, you increase the risk of a mini stroke or even a heart attack.

And if that isn’t enough to make you want to avoid them, some studies suggest that NSAID’s boost the risk of hyponatremia. Hyponatremia is an electrolyte imbalance that causes the brain to swell and can result in death.

So, what if after you run, you take 2 ibuprofen, that should help right? Won’t it help the inflammation and pain and speed your recovery? Maybe not.

Recent studies have shown that taking ibuprofen may actually impair your recovery. Believe it or not, inflammation is part of the healing process and is crucial to recovery. Without inflammation the recovery process is much slower.

This recent study has shown that the use of NSAID’s may negatively impact the healing process. And another study found the use of NSAIDs was associated with elevated indicators of inflammation and cell damage.

Again, I am not a doctor, but I can tell you that I’m not prepared to risk my health with the use of NSAIDs while running. If I’m sore, I’ll probably listen to my body and take a rest day and as for after running use, I think I’ll trust my body to heal itself with the help of my foam roller, my stick or a bag of frozen peas. I’ll save the NSAIDs for the next time I have a fever, which fortunately is almost never.

What do you think? Do you use NSAIDs before or after running?

Have you ever used them?

Do you use them at other times?

Have you ever had any side effects from using NSAIDs?