Kidney Disease and Painkiller Safety

If a person’s kidneys become compromised, one of the first steps often taken is to alter their diet. Good exercise and a healthy lifestyle are also vital. But as they plan how to eat and exercise, many people forget another important element in trying to keep their kidneys healthy: common, everyday painkillers.

The labels on these painkillers, with suggested dosages and durations for use, are on the containers for a reason. In general, no painkiller should be taken for more than three days for a fever, or for longer than ten days for pain. This is why doctors recommend that even if a person’s kidney function is normal, they should take as low a dose of painkillers as possible, and should take them for the shortest possible time.

Yet some people have conditions for which painkillers are actually recommended: for example, a heart condition for which they take aspirin. Are these patients now doomed to choose between heart problems and kidney problems? Fortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case. The aspirin dose is usually low enough that it doesn’t affect kidney function.

Aspirin, in fact, seems to be the painkiller that does the least harm, at least when taken in moderate amounts. Yet the characteristic that makes them most useful with heart problems (blood thinning) can cause other health issues. So the user still must be careful about potential stomach bleeding or ulcers, and if their liver is compromised, even aspirin could be off the table as a painkiller.

Some painkillers, the NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), can actually cause a form of kidney disease called chronic interstitial nephritis, if taken for too long. Ibuprofen and naproxen are the main culprits for this. They should be avoided by anyone who knows their kidneys have impaired function, and should be used with a doctor’s guidance if the patient has other issues like liver disease or high blood pressure.

Acetominophen seems to be the only relatively safe painkiller if the patient can’t tolerate aspirin. Doctors warn against drinking alcohol while taking this drug, but kidney patients should be treating alcohol moderately anyway. And even this medicine should be taken under a physician’s guidance.

People inevitably need painkillers from time to time. But the more they know about how these medicines affect the kidneys, the less casually they may take them. Convenient and effective as they are, these drugs can still have devastating side effects, especially when it comes to kidney health.

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