Every time new medical research comes out, it forces us to think about how often we’ve done something that could be detrimental to our health. Many times, our actions are unintentional, but so common we don’t give it a second thought.

This time, it has to do with taking pain relievers. You know, the over-the-counter ones you can buy at any Walmart, pharmacy, or gas station? And some of the ones your doctors prescribe too. We take them to shut down headaches, back pain, toothaches, and all sorts of other ailments, but a new study published in The BMJ may have you reconsidering how long you should take them.

Their research shows that taking drugs like ibuprofen and other NSAIDS can increase a person’s risk of heart attack by up to 50%. If you’ve ever taken the time to carefully read the label on these medications, you probably note the warnings about ulcers, strokes, and heart attacks.

But maybe you weren’t aware of how high the risk is for damage based on the length of time you take one of them. Researchers analyzed medical data collected from over 446,000 patients from Canada and Europe and out of that group over 60,000 had a cardiac event.

They were all taking NSAIDS for at least one week and up to one month near the time of their cardiac emergency, but had not been taking those medications in the year before. Data revealed a connection between short term regular use and increased risk of heart attack.

It’s important to know that the risk is greater for those with existing heart conditions, but those who take non-steroid anti-inflammatory meds for chronic issues should take notice. Such conditions could include rheumatoid arthritis, injury, or menstrual cramps.

Which drugs fall into this group? Ibuprofen like Motrin or Advil, naproxen meds such as Aleve, and doctored-prescribed celecoxib like Celebrex. Results of the study concluded that further risk is created at high dosages of these medications. For example, taking 1200 mg or more of ibuprofen for 8 days or more can drastically increase one’s risk of a heart-related emergency.

A separate study conducted by Danish researchers found that ibuprofen was the worst offender, increasing the odds of a myocardial infarction by 50%.

So, what should you do about it? Doctors are aware of the risks associated with NSAIDS, but if you have concerns about how these medications are interacting with your prescriptions or other drugs, speak with your physician.

Folks who take pain relievers should make their health care team aware of any heart conditions or symptoms that could lead to a major cardiac issue. It is also important to inform your doctor about OTC meds that you are taking regularly for pain – that is beyond a short-term condition.

Over the years, some medications have been removed from the market due to these risks, but consumers should be aware of the labels and how to properly take these medications. And always follow up with your doctor for any concerns.


U.S. Federal Drug Administration
European Heart Journal Cardiovascular Pharmacotherapy