Taking NSAIDs and alcohol together can lead to gastrointestinal bleeding. The risk is higher in the elderly, people who also take corticosteroids or anti-coagulants, or have a history of ulcers. Anyone taking either prescription or over the counter NSAIDs and alcohol should be alert for warning signs of gastrointestinal bleeding, including vomiting blood, black stools, severe heartburn, or severe stomach pain or cramps. These symptoms indicate a potentially serious condition, and individuals experiencing them should stop taking the medication and consult a physician.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, are used to treat mild pain and headaches, as well as chronic conditions such as arthritis. They are known by various names, including ibuprofen, diclofenac, and naproxen. This class of medication has many alternative uses. Anyone taking over the counter or prescription medication should confirm whether the medicine is an NSAID before consuming alcohol.
The elderly are more likely to develop gastrointestinal bleeding from NSAIDs and alcohol because of differences in metabolism. As part of the aging process, the liver and kidneys do not work as efficiently as in the past. This leads to a higher concentration of NSAIDs in the body, where it can damage the stomach and gastrointestinal tract.
Damage to the GI tract occurs because NSAIDs block the body's production of prostaglandins, which cause pain and swelling. Prostaglandins also protect the lining of the GI tract. When NSAIDs block their production, the stomach and GI tract are easily damaged by normal digestive acids. The lining of the stomach also contains enzymes that help the body metabolize alcohol, which makes drinking while taking NSAIDs even more damaging.
Switching medications is not always a viable option for individuals concerned about the interaction between NSAIDs and alcohol. Other similar medications, such as acetaminophen, are also contraindicated when consuming alcohol. To minimize risks associated with NSAIDs and alcohol, refrain from drinking for 12 hours before or after taking the medication, and take the medicine with food. Regular use of NSAIDs increases the likelihood of developing gastrointestinal bleeding while taking the medication.
NSAIDs can also cause other health problems, such as high blood pressure. NSAIDs slow blood flow from the kidneys, which means less fluid is removed from the blood stream. High levels of fluid in the blood stream causes an increase in blood pressure. Some people also have severe allergies to NSAIDs. Individuals with asthma are at a particularly high risk of dangerous allergic reactions. Anyone concerned about taking NSAIDs with should speak with their healthcare provider about possible alternatives.