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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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I am thankful for acetaminophen (Tylenol) as it is now the only OTC pain reliever I can take because of my heart problems and because I take Eliquis. I also take one low-dose aspirin daily as it has been reported to help prevent certain types of cancer. That amount of aspirin doesn’t relieve pain, though. Sometimes, screaming seems to help, LOL.

I read about possible problems with NSAIDs interacting with the heart several years ago from People’s Pharmacy. At the time, I was using Ibuprofen almost daily for leg pains I had while standing for hours at a time at work. I also have SVT, which was well managed, except for short episodes several times per week. Once I quit using Ibuprofen, the SVT episodes no longer occurred.

On July 9, 2016, the FDA issued a strongly worded warning about NSAIDs (excluding aspirin). It said that there is a link between the use of NSAIDs (excluding aspirin) and heart attack and stroke, even within the first week of using them. This includes people with no previous heart problems. The FDA report is accessible at their website.

Despite this warning, in January, 2017, when I was diagnosed with AFIB, and pleurisy, the cardiologist I saw prescribed Eliquis, an anti-coagulant, and told me to take Ibuprofen or naproxen for my pain. When I mentioned the link with NSAID’s and my experience, she mocked me. Two months later, she retired.

My doctor specifically told me NOT to take Ibuprofen ( NSAID ) for my gout.He said he had a patient die in the office from taking it ( Heart attack?)

What about taking low dose aspirin daily? My dr said it is essential to help thin the blood and 40% effective in preventing another stroke (I had one a couple of months ago). I have never taken this, but started on his advice. This is not ibuprofen, is it still good to take it?

When I was diagnosed with Afib (thankfully now resolved by a cardiac ablation procedure), EVERY SINGLE MEDICAL CARETAKER (doctor, nurse, technician, all of them!) asked me specifically if I took NSAIDS, and told me to STOP IMMEDIATELY, AS NSAIDS CAUSE AND/OR WORSEN AFIB! That really put the fear in me, and I have NEVER taken another NSAID again. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve been warned about NSAIDS and AFIB, I’d be pretty rich.

In the FDA’s (federal government) warning about NSAIDs and their link to heart attacks and strokes, they specifically excluded aspirin. Also, I take Eliquis for AFIB, and the instructions/warnings say that one can continue to take low dose (baby) aspirin. You can access the FDA report at their website.

I hope Tylenol is safe. It’s the only one I have left to take, since I have heartburn. I never take too much of it, only now and then.

thank you for taking all the flack. I have been reading so many bad comments about favorite pastors, the president. and now you. I never get satisfaction from physicians, just more meds that I either throw up or get nauseated. Now they are saying you are not to give us other options. .I am fed up with the medical profession sitting on the computer and not getting it right. plus putting one in the hands of assistants who are not sufficiently trained in most cases. Thank you again because I get more help from you than anywhere. Through you years ago .I found low thyroid, .told the doctor and tests showed out of control.

15+ years ago, I was diagnosed with osteopenia & prescribed Fosamax and have taken the generic form, Alendronate, all this time. For several years, I have had bad foot and leg cramps for which I now take yellow mustard for relief. For about a year, for 24-48 hours after Alendronate, I have hand cramps/spasms. I meet all the criteria for osteoporosis and fear not taking the meds but dread the weekly cramps. What should I do?

If I were you I would look into this further – my understanding is that you should not take Fosamax forever.

I just want to say that I felt bad for you when “Q” became so righteous and adamant about NSAID’S and AFIB ! Even if you were wrong, you are here keeping up a web site to try and help people and educate them on different health issues ! You seem to be like me because I don’t tell anyone anything unless I know for sure what I’m talking about ! And yes sometimes people make mistakes but they shouldn’t have it rammed down their throat that they don’t know what they’re talking about ! I just think it could have been done in a nicer way ! I guess that’s why the world is the way the world is !

Yesterday my Doctor prescribed Meloxicam 7.5 mg Tab Zydu. Ordered to take one or two little pills by mouth daily with food as needed for pain and inflammation. All I can say is this, just call me “Grace”. Waiting for my dr to call me about the 4 x-rays that was taken. Just think just one little pill sure does a lot of trouble. Peoples Pharmacy, thank you so much for the information.

Thank you very much for this important warning, about how NSAIDS can promote getting the heart rhythm irregularity called a-fib (atrial fibrillation)!

I warned my husband about this, because he has been operated on (had an “ablation”) to correct/remove his a-fib, recently, in November, 2016.

He also appreciated your warning, and he will now avoid taking NSAIDS (aspirin, Ibuprofin/Motrin, naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), etc. etc.), and if needed, he will use acetaminophen/Tylenol, instead of NSAIDS.

My doctor told me years ago that nsaids were bad for the heart and kidneys. Where has that health provider been?

You have to be very careful with Tylinol. Never take more than the recommended dose. It can damage your liver. You should have your primary do blood tests every few months and be sure to tell him why. I believe the Tylenol does very little for pain and nothing for inflammation. There are some natural things you can use instead. Try tart cherry extract. It helps at least as much as the over the counter pain relievers.

I have AFIB. I have been told by more than one doctor not to take NSAIDs. Seems to be common knowledge up here tn Canada.

I had been taking Mobil for several years for the iinflammation of arthritis, all of a sudden I had several attacks of afib. I went to the Dr and he took an EKG. That showed afib. This was about 10 years ago. He gave me a beta blocker and the attacks slowed down but it wasn’t till a couple of years ago that he told me to stop the Mobil and not to take anything like it. That was after the findings of the fda. Since I’ve stopped taking any kind of anti inflammatory I’ve had only a few attack of afib and they only lasted a few minuits. But now I have nothing to help the pain except vicodin and the cOrtiz one shot every 3 months. Not taking the Mobil has made a tremendous difference in my life. I am almost an invalid. Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it. The fda is “Protecting” us from living.

I think it is important to review the tables in the research. Naproxen was safer than the others by my reading. Also, I have not looked up the research article yet but news reports indicated that Celebrex has turned out to be safer than any of the OTCs heart wise.

Just today the morning show reported that new research has indicated that NSAIDS should be the Rx of choice for back pain along with PT, acupuncture and other adjuncts, and that acetaminophen really does not help. An argument I have had with physicians . You need that anti-inflammatory effect. Interestingly, it reportedly showed that oral steroids did not help. All things in moderation. Another research article to check out.

I just read the letter from the doctor denying ibuprofen could cause afib.
Five years ago I was taking ibuprofen for a sore hip. After several weeks I developed afib. I certainly see ibuprofen as the cause. Now, one pill can cause arrhythmia.

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