Several years ago, people in pain were horrified to learn that certain prescription medications Vioxx and Bextra, in particular-were dangerous and put them at significant risk for cardiovascular problems. Not only were these people rightfully outraged at having been misled about the safety of these drugs, they were outraged as well at the prospect of having to endure more of the pain they were trying to escape. Many switched to other, more well-known, over-the-counter brands of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). such as Advil, Motrin, Aleve. Now a recent study delivers yet more painful news-it seems that these drugs also carry stroke risks.

Study Details

A group of researchers at the University of Bern recently conducted a meta-analysis of more than 30 randomized trials with a combined total of 116,429 patients taking placebo or NSAIDs. The researchers found abundant evidence of a heightened risk for cardiovascular events and found that taking drugs containing ibuprofen, including brand names such as Motrin, Advil and Nuprin, and those containing naproxen (such as the brand Aleve and a few others) raises the likelihood of suffering a stroke.

These are everyday drugs that sit in most of America's medicine cabinets right now. So, even though this finding is based on a "study of studies" rather than a customized clinical trial that is the gold standard, it's an important one-as many people take these drugs often and without giving it much thought.

Caution From An Expert

According to Harlan Krumholz, MD, professor of cardiology at Yale School of Medicine and author of the book The Expert Guide to Beating Heart Disease: What You Absolutely Must Know, the reason NSAIDs carry cardiovascular risk is that these drugs "disturb the balance of the blood's clotting system, and some of them tend to cause clot formation." He cautions that everyone who takes NSAIDs is at some risk for heart problems. "In particular, people with heart disease should avoid using these medications," Dr. Krumholz said.

Since there is also some risk (albeit small) associated with products containing acetaminophen (such as Tylenol), Dr. Krumholz said that for people with heart issues, aspirin is probably the safest pain reliever. It is, after all, recommended for this group as protection against future heart attacks.

Narcotic Painkillers May Harm Your Heart

Older patients taking opioids such as hydrocodone or codeine face a higher risk for heart attack, bone fracture and death, compared with similar patients taking non-narcotic drugs, such as ibuprofen. If an opioid is necessary to control pain, it is best to take the medicine for as short a time as possible in the lowest effective dose.

Zocor Dosage Danger

Zocor should not be taken in an 80-milligram dose. The FDA says that the 80-mg dose of the statin drug Zocor (simvastatin) can cause myopathy, a potentially severe muscle disorder. A patient taking the 40-mg dose who still has not reached his/her cholesterol goal should be switched to another statin, such as Lipitor (atorvastatin) or Crestor (rosuvastatin).

Caution: Never change your medication or dose without your doctor's OK.

Want to Keep Reading?

Continue reading with a Health Confidential membership.

Sign up now Already have an account? Sign in