WASHINGTON – Most of us have done it at one time or another. We exercise in the heat, feel kind of achy and sore, and reach into the medicine cabinet for a bottle of over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicine.
But combining those non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, also known as NSAIDs, with post-workout dehydration is a prescription for trouble.
“Someone who goes out for a long run and perspires heavily or is out there playing soccer on the Mall, and then they ache all over and take a bunch of NSAIDs for those aches, runs the risk of developing kidney problems,” said Dr. Stuart Seides, physician executive director of the MedStar Heart Institute.
He says it is critical to remain well-hydrated and “tanked up with fluids” before taking these drugs. Even the young and fit need to watch out, he said.
Seides was recently involved in the case where a young man in great shape went out on a warm day, played soccer and had a couple of beers.
“He felt kinda banged up after he played, and took a couple or three NSAIDs a few hours later,” he said. “The next day he felt awful and came down with kidney failure.”
The patient is fine now, but Seides says the kidney specialist who worked with him said if this young man was 54 or 64, his kidneys probably would not have recovered.
He says it is not surprising that many kidney doctors believe NSAIDs are the most dangerous over-the-counter drugs sold in the United States. The Food and Drug Administration already says a possible side effect of the drugs is an increased risk of kidney problems.
“The fact that these are sold over-the-counter doesn’t mean that you can take them like a multi-vitamin. They’re not,” Seides said.
The drugs are especially dangerous when alcohol is added to the equation. A couple of beers after a softball game or a soccer match may seem like a good idea, but the alcohol throws off the body’s ability to regulate fluid levels.
Seides says it is a perfect physical storm — the beer exacerbates dehydration and an already depleted body is not retaining fluid like it should.
“Take some NSAIDs and the next thing you know, you have hit your kidneys with a sledgehammer,” Seides said.
Hydration is not just important before taking NSAIDs. It is crucial for anyone who spends time outside in the summer heat.
“Heat and humidity can be a serious issue,” siad Dr. Robert Shesser, head of the Department of Emergency Medicine at George Washington University Hospital and the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences.
Shesser says emergency-room visits for heat-related problems usually surge after four or five days of 90-plus temperatures, and people need to pace themselves outside when the weather is steamy, especially older folks who may not be accustomed to the heat.
Shesser suggests getting out of the heat every now and then, and drinking plenty of water to replace all the sweat.