NORTH RICHLAND HILLS -- After years of being benched, 44-year-old Donovan Burgess is weightlifting again.
Fitness has always been important to the former semi-professional football player.
Years ago, for daily aches and pains, Burgess began taking a few ibuprofen when he got up. He took a few more before bed. Because he weighed more than 250 pounds, the doses didn't seem out of proportion.
"Everyone takes ibuprofen," Burgess said. "You know why? Because it works. But if you take it my way, I guess it can be a bad thing."
Eight years ago, Burgess began gaining weight without explanation. A trip to the doctor showed his kidneys were failing.
"It's not uncommon to see several patients every couple months with this," said Dr. Bernard Fischbach, medical director of kidney-pancreas transplantation at Baylor All Saints in Fort Worth.
Fischbach said the connection between acetaminophen and liver damage is well known. Many people believe ibuprofen is a safer choice.
Ibuprofen, and other non-steroidal pain relievers including naproxen, work by inhibiting hormones called prostaglandins. That process causes blood vessels to constrict. Mounting evidence shows dehydration makes the constriction much worse.
"If you have an organ that needs a lot of blood flow and you're dehydrated, if you've been working out a lot and you take these drugs, it can really precipitate kidney disease or kidney failure," Fischbach said.
A 1999 issue of the "Journal of Applied Physiology" reported on renal dysfunction in marathon runners who took aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
Dr. Fischbach said it doesn't take much.
"We've seen patients who were very healthy, gotten dehydrated, and taken a couple of doses of non-steroidal drugs, and they developed kidney failure with just like that," he said. "So, it's very variable, depending on the patient."
Drinking alcohol can increase the risk of dehydration, making the potential risk greater.
Experts say no one should take ibuprofen without drinking a glass or two of water.
Years of daily ibuprofen use ended in a kidney transplant for Donovan Burgess 18 months ago.
"It's an eye opener," he said. "Everybody's blown away. If I can help anyone, that'd be great."
He considers raising awareness of the link between ibuprofen and kidney damage a weight of responsibility.