FDA strengthens warnings on non-aspirin pain relievers

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Last week the FDA strengthened an existing label warning that non-aspirin pain relievers like ibuprofen and naproxen can increase the chance of a heart attack or stroke. Since these drugs are used by millions of Americans for aches, pains, and headaches

The FDA has warned people about taking these non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen for a long period of time because they can increase the risk of ulcers, heart attacks and strokes but they finished reviewing safety data on shorter term use for only a few weeks and there also an increased risk in that group, not as much risk, but risk nonetheless. So they are expanding the warning to shorter term therapy and asking health professionals to warn people about symptoms of heart attack like chest pain and shortness of breath or stroke symptoms like, weakness in one part of the body, facial drooping, or slurred speech. People with these symptoms should get medical attention right away.

Pain can make people less productive and ruin their quality of life. There are many things that can cause short term pain like a twisted ankle a sore muscle and it would be inconvenient to have to go to the doctor to get a prescription. Ibuprofen and naproxen are safer options than narcotics and are relatively safe when used at lower doses for a short period of time. They are not perfectly safe though and can increase blood pressure and make your blood more likely to clot due to effects on platelets. Some people are taking very high doses of these drugs for a long period of time for problems that they should be getting other therapy for like a knee replacement or joint injections but instead increase their risk of heart attack and stroke.

Acetaminophen is an alternative to ibuprofen and naproxen but is not as good for pain like sore throat or osteoarthritis. Acetaminophen is heart neutral which means that it doesn’t increase the risk of heart disease like naproxen but doesn’t reduce the risk like aspirin but it has to be used sparingly or it can damage the liver. Even aspirin loses it heart benefiting effects once you take more than 650mg of it in a day. With all of these drugs it is risk versus benefit and if you are concerned, it is the kind of thing you can work through with your doctor or pharmacist.

Michael White; Dept. Of Pharmacy Practice, UConn School Of Pharmacy