Can NSAIDs Increase Our Risk of Heart Attack?

The Potential Problem of Pain Relief

Active adults and athletes perform intense workouts often causing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Sometimes this discomfort requires a little more than a soothing Epsom salt bath. Many individuals will use nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen for pain relief. These can be purchased over the counter (OTC). 

Consumers often feel that OTC meds are safer than prescription drugs. We purchase OTC drugs including NSAIDs without worry they could potentially be harmful. The majority of households will have a bottle of ibuprofen or other NSAID for pain relief and pop a few without thinking of any adverse health effects.

Should I Be Concerned?

Ibuprofen pain relief tablets
Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

According to the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), NSAIDs may increase our risk of heart attack or stroke. Because of this safety announcement by the FDA, it’s recommended to remain conservative and limit our use of NSAIDs like ibuprofen. At the very least, we should discuss taking NSAIDs with our doctor. 

Over the counter and prescription NSAIDs continue to be widely researched because of links to increased risk of heart attack and severe gastrointestinal complications. Some research findings were unfavorable for NSAID use according to an article published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine and Research. Evidently, NSAIDs have been a significant contributor to cardiovascular events. Clinicians and doctors were also advised to remain cautious when prescribing NSAIDs to their patients. 

Do Your Research

The FDA is an excellent source of information for consumers, especially for nutrition and certain drug warnings. It’s a good idea to occasionally check the FDA for items that could be potentially harmful to our health. Without conducting our own research on food, supplements, and pain relievers like NSAIDs, we are usually left in the dark about any safety concerns. 

According to other research, NSAIDs can also be contraindicated for those suffering from certain medical conditions. It appears individuals with hypertension or existing heart conditions are at greater risk of increased health issues using NSAIDs) Further studies conducted on patients with prior heart attack suggested even short term use of NSAIDs placed the individual at increased risk of heart attack or death. 

Alternative recommendations indicated for those with existing heart conditions included acetaminophen, the familiar ingredient in Tylenol for pain relief. Tylenol may be a better fit but before taking this or any alternative option, it’s important to have a discussion with your physician. 

Common NSAIDs

Over the counter NSAIDs have been popular for years because they provide effective pain relief for sore muscles, tendonitis, sprains, headaches and menstrual cramps. Many of us consider NSAIDs an athlete’s best friend when it comes to reducing pain. It appears the health risks may now outweigh the benefits. The following are common NSAIDs approved in the United States and available without a prescription: 

  • Ibuprofen (generic name for Advil and Motrin) 
  • Naproxen sodium (generic name for Aleve)
  • Aspirin (generic name for Ascriptin, Bayer, Ecotrin)

Note that some OTC cold medications also include NSAIDs, so taking them increases your total overall consumption of NSAIDs.

Should I Take NSAIDs?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is not saying to stop taking NSAIDs but offering an informational safety announcement. They felt enough evidence was collected to inform consumers of the potential of NSAIDs to increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. The positive about the FDA announcement for NSAID use is consumer awareness. It allows us the ability to make an informed decision about nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and our health.  

Electing to take NSAIDs remains a personal choice to be discussed with your physician. NSAIDs provide effective pain relief but are intended for short term use of no more than ten days. Using NSAIDs for longer periods should be done under the care of a physician who can monitor any adverse health effects. 

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