Over the Counter OTC Meds

No matter what kind of medicine you take, whether OTC (over the counter) or prescription, it is destined to take a trip through your kidneys. They are, after all, your body’s natural filtration system! There are several types of OTC medication that people frequently use for gastritis, GERD, aches, pains and headaches that if routinely used could damage your kidneys.

Over the Counter OTC Medication


OTC Kidney Risk #1: NSAIDS

One of the more frequent culprits are a class of drugs called NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug). Drugs that belong to this class of medications are ibuprofen, naproxen, indomethacin, and meloxicam. Ibuprofen is also sold under the brand names Motrin or Advil.  These meds can block the release of prostaglandins (PG). PG play an important role in preventing the blood vessels within the kidney from constricting for long periods of time.

When we take NSAIDS, we block PG release, hence our kidney function can decline quickly. Those with underlying kidney damage are more vulnerable to the harmful effects of NSAIDS.

OTC Kidney Risk #2: PPI

PPI (Proton Pump Inhibitors) are a group of drugs that block gastric acid secretion. They are commonly used for gastritis, gastric reflux and peptic ulcer disease.

Examples of this include omeprazole, pantoprazole and esmoprazole.

PPIs can cause low blood magnesium levels due to reduced intestinal absorption. Clinical manifestations of low blood levels include tremor, weakness, lethargy and even seizures (if its severe enough).

The risk of low blood magnesium levels is higher in those who have been taking it long term (over a year).

PPIs can also cause an allergic reaction inside the kidney causing your blood creatinine to increase.  It has also been associated with an increased incidence of chronic kidney disease and end stage kidney disease.

OTC Kidney Risk #3: Laxatives

Over the Counter OTC Medication

Laxatives: Milk of magnesia should be used in caution in those with kidney failure. Patients with kidney problems are unable to tolerate excess magnesium. It is important to avoid supplements, laxatives or antacids that contain magnesium.  If it is taken then it can easily lead to high and even toxic magnesium levels. With this one can experience headaches, nausea, skin flushing, lethargy, drowsiness, and diminished reflexes.

OTC Med Guidelines for Kidney Health

As you’ve learned so far, NSAIDs, PPI, and laxatives are just three classes of OTC drugs to be wary about. But there are some general kidney health guidelines that can also help navigate what meds to take as well! Here are a few tips to remember:

  • Always consult your doctor before taking new OTC medication. They may seem harmless at first glance, but your physician will know for sure.
  • This especially applies to long term use! OTC medication taken over prolonged periods of time can have unforeseen consequences, so talk to your healthcare provider about it.
  • Pay close attention to the directions. You can also consult your doctor on dosage, as they have more familiarity with your unique circumstances.
  • Always check for proper OTC medication dosage. Taking too high of a potency is a common cause of medication toxicity.
  • Stay hydrated! Water helps flush out toxins. Dehydration can lead to kidney failure because medication becomes too concentrated in your system.
  • Avoid alcohol when taking OTC meds. It can cause increased blood pressure, dehydration, and liver disease.

If you are concerned about any of these over the counter medications, you should see your doctor as soon as possible. A nephrologist can help you address kidney-related concerns as well. If you’re seeking a nephrologist in the Orange County area, call Dr. Gandotra’s office today to schedule an appointment: (714) 435-0150