Just because a drug doesn’t require a prescription, doesn’t mean it’s harmless or should be taken without careful consideration. A recent study revealed taking ibuprofen and other NSAIDs for even a short period of time can have an adverse effect on your heart health.
Quick definition: NSAIDs (ie. non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are used for pain relief, reducing inflammation, bringing down fevers and preventing blood clotting. (1) Common NSAIDS are:
- ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
- naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn)
- nabumetone (Relafen)
- COX-2 inhibitors (Celebrex)
Study: Ibuprofen and other NSAIDs Increase Heart Attack Risk
Michèle Bally and her team of researchers from Montreal, Finland, and Germany reviewed heaps of data collected from previous studies to see if they could uncover information about the effects NSAIDs have on cardiovascular health. Scientists already knew that NSAID use could increase the risk of heart attack, but they didn’t know what kinds of doses had the effect, or which types of NSAIDs did this.
Bally’s team found that all NSAID types seemed to be associated with the increased risk of heart attack. The researchers found that daily doses of 200 mg or more of celecoxib, 100 mg or more of diclofenac, 1200 mg or more of ibuprofen, and 750 mg or more of naproxen for short terms of just 8-30 days could cause the risk of heart attack to jump up. (2)
(For reference, the recommended maximum safe dose of ibuprofen is 1200 mg for period pain, 3200 mg for arthritic pain, and 3200 mg for fever or other types of pain.) (3)
They recommend to medical practitioners to be careful to weigh the risks before having a patient start using NSAIDs for pain management or fever, since risk of heart attack seemed to be greatest at the beginning of use. (2) But as the person who’s ultimately in charge of your health (and especially since many NSAIDs are available over-the-counter), you should ask as many questions as you need to to make sure that you’re managing pain in a safe way.
Is It Safe to Take a Daily Aspirin?
Anthony Komaroff, MD of Harvard Health explains that taking an aspirin might stop an impending heart attack. He says, if you notice the signs of a heart attack, chew a 325mg non-coated aspirin to help prevent the formation of a blood clot in your heart, and then seek medical attention immediately. (4)
But as far as a daily aspirin goes, the potential pros of preventing blood clots are usually outweighed by the cons of various side effects (keep reading for a list of those). A 2018 study of almost 20,000 healthy adults over the age of 65 found that not only did taking a daily aspirin not seem to have protective effects, but those who took aspirin actually had a slightly increased mortality rate compared to those who didn’t (5.9% vs. 5.2%).
Professor Stephen Evans, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said: “The small benefit on heart disease was outweighed by overall increases in other diseases and suggests that in healthy older people without heart disease there is no benefit to low-dose aspirin.”
Ask your doctor if taking a daily aspirin is a safe choice for you given your medical history and cardiovascular health before you start using it. You should also learn about holistic approaches to protect your heart health. These focus on preventing heart conditions from developing in the first place through smart lifestyle and eating choices.
Other Health Effects of NSAID Use
NSAID use is often associated with gastrointestinal problems like stomach ulcers. The most frequently reported side effects of NSAIDs are: (5)
- Feeling bloated
- Stomach pain
- Diarrhea and/or constipation
- Feeling lightheaded
- Problems with balance
- Difficulty concentrating
- Mild headaches
If you have an existing medical condition, including diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease, asthma, history of stroke or heart attack, Crohn’s, or are pregnant, don’t take over-the-counter painkillers without making sure that it’s safe with your medical care provider.