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Could Your Pain Reliever Harm Your Heart?

Ibuprofen and other NSAIDs could harm your heart. They increase the risk for the abnormal heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation.

Sometimes a health professional takes us to task for something we have said. We appreciate being corrected when we are wrong, but this time we have the research that backs up our warning: NSAIDs are linked to a higher risk of atrial fibrillation. Afib is a very big deal. This irregular heart rhythm can lead to blood clot formation that could cause a stroke. When Afib is diagnosed it often leads to prescriptions for beta blockers and blood thinners. Such drugs have their own side effects. It is important to recognize that your pain reliever might harm your heart.

Ibuprofen Could Harm Your Heart-Really?

Q. I heard your radio show in which you talked about ibuprofen being associated with an increased risk of atrial fibrillation. In 20 years of practicing medicine, I’ve never seen anything about a connection between NSAIDs like ibuprofen and Afib.

I have seen huge numbers of people with stomach ulcers related to these drugs. I’ve heard of heart attacks associated with Vioxx, which was taken off the market. But not Afib.

I think you should not be misleading people with incorrect statements. A lot of people see TV commercials now talking about Afib and after listening to you they may be afraid to take ibuprofen. Please get your facts straight.

NSAIDs and Your Heart:

Heart Attacks:

A. NSAIDs like diclofenac, ibuprofen, meloxicam and naproxen have been on the market for decades. It took a long time before the FDA realized such drugs might increase the risk of heart attacks. The study demonstrating that rofecoxib (Vioxx) could harm your heart by causing a heart attack or stroke alerted the agency to this possibility (Baron et al, The Lancet, Nov. 15, 2008).

Atrial Fibrillation:

The connection between NSAIDs and the irregular heart rhythm called Afib was first reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine (Sept. 13, 2010).  Then a Danish study involving over 32,000 patients found that people taking NSAIDs were about 40 percent more likely to develop this arrhythmia (Schmidt et al, BMJ, July 4, 2011).

What Pain Relief Won’t Harm Your Heart?

People with hypertension, heart disease or Afib might benefit from other ways to control pain. Integrative approaches such as appropriate exercise, meditation, yoga and certain herbs or dietary supplements can be helpful.

Our newly revised and expanded Guide to Alternatives for Arthritis provides many non-drug options. This guide is a bit different from most of our other guides. The information is provided as an online resource, as it is too long (50+ pages) to print and mail. When you buy it, you will be emailed a link just for you that allows you to visit it whenever you wish, as many times as you like. You will be able to read it on any device that you have connected to the internet.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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