Best for: Muscle sprains, joint pain, swelling, backaches, toothaches
How it works: Like all nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, ibuprofen inhibits an enzyme called cyclooxygenase. According to Vardeny, this enzyme prompts the formation of certain prostaglandins, lipids that cause inflammation, swelling, and pain. But by obstructing cyclooxygenase all over your body, ibuprofen tames inflammation and reduces pain, whether it’s your ankle, elbow, or hamstring that hurts.
Recommended dose: 200 to 400 milligrams every four to six hours as needed
Maximum daily dose: 1,200 milligrams
Downsides: Prostaglandins also protect the stomach lining, so by inhibiting their formation, ibuprofen can cause gastrointestinal irritation, ulcers, or bleeding. “For older people, 400 milligrams every six hours is enough to cause GI problems whereas most young, healthy people can take ibuprofen for a week and be fine,” Vardeny says. To minimize GI risks, she suggests taking ibuprofen with food or a full glass of water.
Excessive ibuprofen can also spell trouble for your kidneys, where the drug is mainly metabolized. It can also increase your odds of hypertension, heart attack, or stroke, especially if you already have risk factors for heart disease. “The higher the amount and the more times it’s taken, the more your cardiovascular risks increase,” Vardeny says. “But in certain individuals, even taking just 400 mg for seven to 14 days can elevate your odds of a heart attack.”
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