Even a Little Non-Aspirin Painkiller Could Be Bad News

Risk of heart attack, stroke from NSAIDs higher than thought, even in small amounts
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 14, 2015 10:47 AM CDT
Even a Little Non-Aspirin Painkiller Could Be Bad News
This Oct. 5, 2006, file photo shows boxes of Advil medication on a store shelf in New York.   (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

The FDA advised back in 2005 that non-aspirin nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, could up the risk of heart attack and stroke. But the agency is now boosting that warning, noting that drugs like ibuprofen (often sold under the Motrin IB brand), naproxen (Aleve), and celecoxib (Celebrex) may pose a risk even in small amounts and that these drugs should be used sparingly and for short periods, the New York Times reports. (Aspirin, although an NSAID, doesn't pose the same risk, the FDA notes.) Although an FDA review found that higher doses increased the risk of heart attack or stroke—and the risk may increase with length of use—"there is no period of use shown to be without risk," an FDA deputy director says. And while people with cardiovascular disease are more at risk for being adversely affected by NSAIDs, "everyone may be at risk—even people without an underlying risk for cardiovascular disease," the FDA rep says.

NSAIDs decrease production of prostaglandins, chemicals spewed out after an injury that trigger inflammation, WNCN reports. Per the FDA review, over-the-counter NSAIDs could up the risk of heart attack and stroke by about 10%, low-dose prescription meds by 20%, and higher-dose prescription NSAIDs by 50%, with "significant variability" in each estimate, an Emory University medical professor tells the Times. One NSAID, Vioxx, was taken off shelves in 2004 after being linked to 140,000 heart attacks over a five-year period, Bloomberg notes. The director of Northwestern University's Center for Communication and Health says that "one of the underlying messages (is) there are no completely safe pain relievers, period." How to cut down on potential NSAID risks, per the Harvard Health Blog: Take the lowest dose that works, limit how long you take it, and never take more than one NSAID at once. (Meanwhile, Benadryl may up your risk for Alzheimer's.)

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