Originally published September 2 2015
Ibuprofen, aspirin and OTC painkillers can cause deadly heart attacks and strokes, FDA admits
by David Gutierrez, staff writer
(NaturalNews) In July, the FDA announced changes to the labels of nearly every medication in the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) class, warning that those drugs could cause fatal strokes and heart attacks even in young people with no known cardiovascular risk factors. Heart attacks could be triggered after just weeks of taking the pills.
"There is great concern that people think these drugs are benign, and they are probably not," said Peter Wilson of Emory University, who served on the expert panel that advised the FDA on the decision. "The thought is these are good for short-term relief, probably for your younger person with no history of cardiovascular trouble."
Details of risk still unknownThe FDA has required NSAIDs other than aspirin to carry warning labels about the risk of heart attacks and strokes since 2005. In the intervening decade, new research has shown that the risk was higher than previously believed. Alarmingly, research has shown that the risk increases within the first few weeks of taking the drugs, even in people with no previous risk for heart disease.
Higher doses of the drugs produce higher risks, with some prescription-strength doses potentially carrying five times the risk of over-the-counter doses. People who take non-aspirin NSAIDs following heart attacks are significantly more likely to die over the course of the following year than people who do not take those drugs.
The research has also shown that different drugs appear to carry different degrees of cardiovascular risk. Unfortunately, researchers are still unsure which drugs are more dangerous. This means that for now, all of them must be considered equally dangerous.
Wilson offered a rough rule of thumb for estimating the risk based on drug dosage. Over-the-counter NSAIDs appear to increase heart attack and stroke risk by roughly 10 percent, while low-dose prescription NSAIDs seem to increase it by about 20 percent. High-dose prescription NSAIDs can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke by about 50 percent.
No safe painkillersHeart attack and stroke are not the only serious risks from NSAIDs. All NSAIDs, including aspirin, carry a serious risk of causing potentially fatal stomach bleeding, often without any warning. That's because the drugs function by blocking the action of the inflammatory chemicals known as prostaglandins. Prostaglandins serve many important functions in the body, including protecting the lining of the stomach from being corroded by digestive acids.
Prostaglandins also play a key role in female fertility. That's why NSAIDs can interfere with conception and delay or lengthen labor. Taken during pregnancy, NSAIDs can cause infants to experience delayed respiratory and circulatory development, leading to permanent health problems.
NSAIDs have also been known to cause kidney damage.
Other painkillers also carry their own risks. Narcotic painkillers in the opioid family are highly addictive and kill far more people each year than any street drug.
Acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, is the leading cause of acute liver failure. In addition, studies suggest that it actually blunts people's emotional and moral reasoning. One study found that people who had taken Tylenol described the emotional content of various images as more neutral and less emotionally intense than people who had taken a placebo, but they were unaware that their reactions had changed. Another study found that people on Tylenol experienced less emotional pain from rejection, while a third suggested that the drug dulls the sense of indignation that leads to moral judgment.
Commenting on the FDA's new NSAID rules, drug safety communication specialist Bruce Lambert of Northwestern University said, "One of the underlying messages for this warning has to be there are no completely safe pain relievers, period."
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