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Some Pain Relievers May Have a Stronger Risk for Heart Attack & Stroke

July 16, 2015

More than 29 million Americans regularly take pain relief medicine, but now experts say that there is an even stronger link between these medications and an increased risk for heart attack or stroke.

The Food & Drug Administration recently issued a stronger warning about a category of pain relievers known as NSAIDs—nonaspirin nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Since 2005, we’ve known about the risk of heart attack and stroke associated with these drugs, but the FDA has continually reviewed the literature and the data surrounding the use of NSAIDs to ensure consumers’ safety. It recently reviewed new safety information and decided to update the labeling for NSAIDs to more clearly outline the risks.

If you currently take NSAIDs, here’s what you need to know.

Risk Factors with Use of NSAID Pain Relievers

The FDA says the risk of heart attack or stroke can occur as early as the first weeks of using an NSAID and that there’s an increased risk the longer you use these medications. In addition to heart attack and stroke, NSAIDs also may increase your risk for heart failure.

High dosages of NSAIDs also come with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Whether you take ibuprofen, naproxen or COX-2 inhibitors, it’s still not clear if any particular NSAID has a higher or lower risk of these conditions compared to others, which is likely why the FDA has issued a stronger warning that covers all of these medications.

Certain groups also are more at risk than others. NSAIDs can increase heart attack and stroke risks in people with or without risk factors for heart disease, but those who already have heart disease or significant risk factors for this condition are at higher risk. Studies also have shown that people treated with NSAIDs after a first heart attack were more likely to die in the first year after the heart attack compared to those who did not receive this treatment.

What You Can Do

You may be wondering what to do if you suffer from chronic pain and need to take this medication. The most important thing is to pay attention to potential signs and symptoms of a cardiac issue. If you have chest pain, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, slurred speech or weakness in any part of your body, seek medical attention immediately. Also talk to your doctor about your concerns. He or she will monitor any heart-related side effects you may experience while taking NSAIDs and may adjust your dosage or treatment plan. If you’d like more information, please visit the FDA’s website to review its updated warning.