My views on nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are no secret; I’ve covered many studies over the years showing just how dangerous these commonly used anti-inflammatories really are. Patients pop over-the-counter and prescription NSAIDs for everything from a simple headache to post-workout muscle aches to arthritis to traumatic injuries and more. They are as common to our medicine cabinets as salt and pepper are to our spice cabinets, yet the risks of NSAID use just keep adding up, and just when we think it can’t get any worse, it does!
While the dangers of long-term use, for a month or longer, have been a heavy focus in many high-level studies, a new study now suggests that NSAIDs increase heart attack risk very significantly even after taking them for just a week. So if you think your risk is minimized because you’re only taking that Motrin for a few days, not long term, you’ll want to pay close attention to this post. Before we delve into the newest study, let’s review NSAIDs and prior studies we’ve covered.
The other day, I had to get my passport renewed and I needed a new head shot, so I had time to wander around a Walgreens (hence the pic above). NSAIDs that you are likely most familiar with are the ones you can walk into Walgreens or CVS and purchase right off the shelf. Ibuprofen is probably the most common, and it is sold under brand names such as Advil and Motrin. Naproxen is a long-lasting NSAID sold as Aleve. Another common NSAID is aspirin. NSAIDs can also come in a prescription form, including celecoxib (Celebrex) and meloxicam (Mobic). All NSAIDs carry risks for dangerous side effects.
NSAIDs are not acetaminophen, which you would find in Tylenol for example. While both Advil and Tylenol will address pain, what sets the Advil, and all other NSAIDs, apart is their ability to address and inhibit inflammation. Keep in mind that inflammation is usually your immune system’s response to an acute condition or injury, and its purpose is to allow the body to self-heal. So stifling that process by popping an NSAID not only introduces the potential for dangerous side effects but also fights the body’s natural healing process.
With so many studies concluding their dangers, it should be impossible to ignore, yet it seems that is exactly what is happening as doctors are still recommending NSAIDs for every ache and pain, and consumers are still buying them over the counter more than any other drug class. This is despite the fact that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued stern warnings about the fact that NSAIDs increase heart attack risk and stroke risks and the American Heart Association (AHA) has also issued warnings on the high risks of NSAIDs.
Let’s take a look at some of the studies showing these dangerous side effects of NSAIDs:
The new study was a large-scale investigation looking at the outcomes of over 400,000 subjects, comparing the risks of heart attack in patients who were taking NSAIDs with those who were not. The study recorded the NSAID that was being taken (ibuprofen, naproxen, celecoxib, etc.), when and how often taken, and the dosage. Results showed not only what we already knew—that taking NSAIDs for a month or longer increased the risk of heart attack—but also any dose of NSAIDs increase heart attack risk even when taken for as little as one week. Another surprising finding of this study was the fact that even naproxen (Aleve), which hasn’t shown the same level of risks as other NSAIDs, was also found to significantly increase the risk for heart attack in this study.
The upshot? It’s no longer safe to assume popping an NSAID (even naproxen) for a few days for a few minor aches and pains is OK. After all, you’re not taking them long enough to get hooked; however, this new study suggests that because NSAIDs increase heart attack risk so significantly in such a short time, you’re unknowingly and unnecessarily increasing your risk of a heart attack. So just when we think we’ve seen the worst with NSAIDs, another study proves us wrong. Our best recommendation at this point—taking one NSAID is one NSAID too many.
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About the Author
Christopher J. Centeno, M.D. is an international expert and specialist in regenerative medicine and the clinical use of mesenchymal stem cells in orthopedics. He is board certified in physical medicine as well as rehabilitation and in pain management through The American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.…