Heart Health, Prevention

Common Pain Killers Linked to Cardiovascular Disease

Chances are, if you pull a muscle or wake up with a headache, you’re apt to reach for a bottle of Motrin, Aleve or Advil. We’ve all come to depend on those seemingly harmless pain relievers. Unfortunately, we now know those particular over-the-counter drugs may be raising your risk of a deadly heart attack.All these pain relievers belong to the family of drugs called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDS. ¬†These have long been considered “generally safe” by doctors, but now evidence is accumulating showing that these medications can be contributing to cardiovascular disease.

A study in Denmark followed the health of 100,000 participants who had suffered a first heart attack. During the five years of the study, almost half of those people were prescribed an NSAID medication on at least one occasion. Results of the study were published in the journal Circulation.

After one year, participants who used an NSAID were 60 percent more likely to die during each year of the study, when compared to participants who had not used the medication. Overall, there were 20 deaths per 100 people among the users of the medication, and only 12 deaths per 100 people among non-users. In the fifth year of the study, users of the medication sustained 9.5 deaths per 100, while non-users had only 6 deaths per 100 participants. The researchers also determined that taking any NSAID pain reliever rather than aspirin increased the risk of a second heart attack.

The largest increases in death and heart attack rates were linked to Cataflm, the trade name for the NSAID diclofenac. Pain relievers containing naproxen, including Naprosyn and Aleve, had a slightly lower rate.

In another study conducted in 2013, researchers reviewed 600 trials and determined that high doses of NSAIDS raised the risk of heart attacks by 33 percent. Taking ibuprofen more than doubles the likelihood of a coronary event. A separate 2014 study found that deaths from strokes were 19 percent higher in patients taking NSAID medication.

These studies did not provide a definitive explanation as to why NSAIDs increase the risk of subsequent cardiac problems for people who have survived an initial heart attack. It may be that the patients who took NSAIDs had abandoned a recommended aspirin regimen, thus raising their risks. It may also be that the medication is blocking the protective effects of aspirin, even if the patient is still taking aspirin. Aspirin is usually recommended for cardiac patients, as it reduces the risk of blood clots.

In light of this research, it is wise to avoid use of NSAID medications. This is particularly important if you have a history of heart disease. A better choice for pain relief is acetaminophen, but do not exceed a dose of 3,259 milligrams per day in order to avoid any liver damage.

An even better choice for minor pain relief is essential oils such as frankincense, wintergreen, peppermint, or lavender. Generally, it takes only a few minutes after application of these oils to experience pain relief.