Indomethacin (Indocin, Indocid) is a member of a group of medications known as nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs. Although these medications are not steroids, they share a similar characteristic in that they suppress inflammation. Indomethacin is used primarily to treat arthritic conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, gout and bursitis. Although often effective, indomethacin may cause mild to serious side effects.
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Heart Attack and Stroke
Like all NSAIDs, indomethacin may increase your risk for a heart attack or stroke. For this reason, indomethacin should not be used right before or after heart bypass surgery. Your doctor may recommend another medication rather than indomethacin if you have heart disease.
NSAIDs, including indomethacin, can also cause bleeding in your digestive tract. In some cases, the bleeding may be severe and life threatening. Ulceration or a hole in your stomach or intestine may develop. Older adults are at greatest risk for serious bleeding associated with use of indomethacin and other NSAIDs.
Nervous System Side Effects
The most common reported side effect of indomethacin is headache. It is reported in about 12 percent of patients, according to the manufacturer's prescribing information. Dizziness is reported by approximately 3 to 9 percent of people taking the medication. Other possible nervous system side effects include depression, tiredness, sleepiness, lack of energy and ringing in the ears.
Digestive System Complaints
Indomethacin can cause a range of digestive system side effects, including stomach pain, heartburn, indigestion and nausea. Less frequent gastrointestinal side effects include constipation, diarrhea and vomiting.
Rare Side Effects
Some rare side effects of indomethacin might become life threatening and merit immediate care. Agranulocytosis, or suppression of white blood cell production, can lead to serious infections. Abnormal heart rhythms are also possible and potentially serious. Some people experience mental side effects, including confusion and loss of touch with reality.
Side effects are more common and more troublesome for older adults, so indomethacin may not be a good choice for people older than age 75. Indomethacin is not well studied in children younger than 14 years old and is, therefore, generally not used in this population. As of September 2013, indomethacin is rated as a pregnancy category C drug. This means that animal studies have shown the drug may harm a developing fetus. Doctors typically only prescribe category C medication during pregnancy if the potential benefits outweigh the risks for the mother and her unborn baby. People with aspirin-sensitive asthma may have a serious increase in symptoms if indomethacin is taken. Be sure to tell your doctor is you have a history of asthma before taking indomethacin.