These over-the-counter pain relievers could lead to heart attack or stroke

pain relievers

Acetaminophen or aspirin are safer alternatives to manage pain than relying on ones like ibuprofen and naproxen, which can increase the risk of heart attack or stroke. [© Monkey Business Images | Dreamstime.com]

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced it is “strengthening an existing label warning that non-aspirin nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)­—including ibuprofen, naproxen, diclofenac, and celecoxib as well as others—increase the chance of heart attack or stroke. The risk of heart attack and stroke with NSAIDs, both of which can lead to death, was first described in 2005 in the Boxed Warning and Warnings and Precautions sections of prescription drug labels.”

We knew that long-term use of NSAIDs increased the risk of heart disease and stroke, but this new study discovered that short-term use could also pose a significant threat. This warning is especially important for high-risk groups that include males over age 50, females over age 60 and those who have high-risk factors of developing coronary artery disease such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking or obesity.

For my patients with diagnosed coronary artery disease, a stent, history of a heart attack or bypass surgery who are suffering from a headache, arthritis or backache, I recommend that they take NSAIDs for no more than a few days. If you are a high-risk cardiac patient, but have not had a cardiac event, you can take NSAIDs for a few weeks but no longer.

If you want to avoid the risks associated with NSAIDs, Tylenol (acetaminophen) or aspirin are safer alternatives to manage pain. If you have concerns, you should call your doctor to discuss your risk of taking NSAIDs versus the benefit they may have in treating your pain.

If you are taking NSAIDs and experience symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath or trouble breathing, weakness in one part or side of your body or slurred speech, call 911.

 


According to the FDA, new prescription NSAID labels will be revised to reflect the following information:

  • The risk of heart attack or stroke can occur as early as the first weeks of using an NSAID.
  • The risk may increase with longer use of the NSAID. The risk appears greater at higher doses.
  • It was previously thought that all NSAIDs may have a similar risk. Newer information makes it less clear that the risk for heart attack or stroke is similar for all NSAIDs; however, this newer information is not sufficient for us to determine that the risk of any particular NSAID is definitely higher or lower than that of any other particular NSAID.
  • NSAIDs can increase the risk of heart attack or stroke in patients with or without heart disease or risk factors for heart disease. A large number of studies support this finding, with varying estimates of how much the risk is increased, depending on the drugs and the doses studied.
  • In general, patients with heart disease or risk factors for it have a greater likelihood of heart attack or stroke following NSAID use than patients without these risk factors because they have a higher risk at baseline.
  • Patients treated with NSAIDs following a first heart attack were more likely to die in the first year after the heart attack compared to patients who were not treated with NSAIDs after their first heart attack.
  • There is an increased risk of heart failure with NSAID use.
Keith Freidman, M.D., is a cardiologist with Cardiovascular Specialists of Central Maryland in Columbia.

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