Ibuprofen and Fluid Retention

Ibuprofen relieves pain and reduces fever, but it can also sometimes cause or aggravate fluid retention. According to a March 2002 article in the "American Journal of Cardiology," fluid retention occurs in approximately 2 percent to 5 percent of people who take nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs -- the medication group that includes ibuprofen. Although noticeable fluid retention is unlikely in young, healthy adults who occasionally use ibuprofen, it might occur after long-term, regular use of the medication. More commonly, ibuprofen aggravates existing fluid retention in people with heart and/or kidney disease.

A senior man holds pills in one hand and a glass of water in the other Credit: DragonImages/iStock/Getty Images

Newly Developed Fluid Retention

Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) sometimes causes newly developed fluid retention. This occurs primarily because the kidneys tend to retain extra salt and water under the influence of ibuprofen -- although noticeable fluid retention is uncommon and the risk differs among people. Young people in good health who occasionally take ibuprofen for minor pain or an illness rarely develop symptoms of fluid retention, such as eye or finger puffiness, swelling of feet and ankles, or weight gain. However, people with heart, liver or kidney disease and those with high blood pressure are more likely to develop fluid-retention symptoms.

Increased Fluid Retention

Ibuprofen may worsen existing fluid retention -- also known as edema -- that often accompanies conditions such as cirrhosis of the liver, heart failure and chronic kidney disease. In some cases, this causes an increase in typical fluid retention symptoms. If the edema becomes severe, however, symptoms such as shortness of breath, coughing, extreme tiredness, loss of appetite and nausea can develop along with a sudden increase in body weight. People who take medications that control these diseases are especially vulnerable to fluid retention from ibuprofen. For example, water pills taken to reduce edema or lower blood pressure are sometimes less effective if taken with ibuprofen.

Long-Term Effects

Daily use of ibuprofen for many years might cause serious kidney damage with associated fluid retention. However, this complication is uncommon and does not occur other than with long-term use. The risk of kidney damage appears to increase with the number of years the drug has been used. Higher dosages also appear to increase the risk of long-term kidney damage. This condition most often occurs in women over 50.

Warnings and Precautions

Talk with your doctor if you notice unusual weight gain or other symptoms of fluid retention after taking ibuprofen. In most cases, these symptoms go away within a few days after you stop taking the medication. Talk with your doctor or pharmacist before taking ibuprofen if you have high blood pressure, are over 65, or have liver, kidney or heart disease. Professional medical societies, such as American Society of Nephrology and American Geriatrics Society, recommend avoiding use of ibuprofen if possible if you are at increased risk for fluid retention or other side effects associated with the drug.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
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