Five-year Study Concludes:

Commonly used Pain Pills May be Bad for Your Heart


Pain Pills May Be Bad for Your Heart
Non-steroidal anti-inflamatory drugs


According to a five-year study involving 350,000 patients, financed by the Medical Research Council of the United Kingdom and the British Heart Foundation, common pain killers like ibuprofen and naproxen, the most common remedy for headaches, pulled muscles, and arthritis, may be bad for your heart. The research focused on prolonged use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in high doses.

Occasional use of “Nsaids” (nonsteroidal anti-imflamatory drugs: Motrin, Advil) is probably okay, but that people who regularly take high doses of Nsaids increase their cardiovascular risk by as much as one-third — that’s bad for your heart.

Dr. Marie R. Griffin, a preventive medicine specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, says, “There aren’t (any) really good choices for chronic pain.” In addition to the potential harm to heart health, painkillers like Nsaids often simply don’t do the job.

The cardiovascular risks associated with Nsaids received attention more than a decade ago when studies of Vioxx, Bextra and Celebrex  revealed increased incidents of heart attacks and strokes. Vioxx and Bextra were withdrawn from the market in 2004. (Celebrex is still available by prescription. According to this study, it averages three heart attacks and/or strokes per 1,000 patients who regularly take high doses – 1 of which is fatal.) These Nsaids are really bad for your heart.

Nsaids risks: Since 2004, evidence has been gathering that nearly all Nsaids pose some cardiovascular risk in heavy users. The study suggests that ibuprofen dilutes the benefits of low-dose aspirin therapy.

According to this analysis, the safest is Naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn, Anaprox, Naprelan), for those whose stomachs can tolerate it. Even at high daily doses of 1,000 milligrams, naproxen does not increase cardiovascular risk and may even have a protective effect similar to aspirin. Unfortunately, it appears to cause more gastrointestinal problems than other Nsaids.

All Nsaids, including naproxen (which may protect against heart attacks), increase the risk of heart failure. They may also damage the liver and kidneys and increase the risk of high blood pressure.

Some doctors worry that people who live with severe chronic pain will be dissuaded from taking treatments that, statistically speaking, are unlikely to harm them, and may improve their quality of life. If they are making your life better, that may be worth the risks.

Dr Brian Walitt, a rheumatologist and Assoc. Professor at Georgetown University, says, “People get very worked up at the cardiac risks, and they are real, but these are population-wide risks. There are people with arthritis using these drugs every day … and most of them never have a problem.”

What’s a person to do with this new information about Nsaids which may be bad for your heart?

Experts advise:

  • If you can’t function without daily use of Nsaids, use the lowest dose possible for the least amount of time you can.
  • If you have heart disease or risk factors for it, your doctor should assess the risk of chronic Nsaids use, based on your medical and family history. Gastrointestinal problems should be considered too.
  • Naproxen is a good first choice for chronic pain, if your stomach can tolerate it.
  • If you’re on a low-dose aspirin regimen, avoid Nsaids containing ibuprofen.
  • If you struggle with chronic pain you may want to explore alternatives, such as: hypnosis, yoga, biofeedback, NLP.


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