October 7, 2014 — Health officials in Australia are warning that many common over-the-counter painkillers have severe side effects, including life-threatening heart problems.
The warnings were issued for Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs), including aspirin, naproxen (Aleve), and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin). Every year, tens of millions of people use prescription-strength and over-the-counter versions of these drugs.
Prescription-strength NSAIDs are already known to increase the right of heart failure, heart attack, stroke, and high blood pressure. In 2004, a potent NSAID known as Vioxx was pulled off the market over concerns about heart attack and stroke.
Health officials are now warning against using NSAIDs for people who have pre-existing cardiovascular disease. Australian authorities also want to extend these warnings to over-the-counter products.
Several recent studies found evidence of serious risks. In September, the journal Rheumatology reviewed six studies involving more than 21,000 cases of blood clots, known as venous thromboembolism (VTE). People who used NSAIDs were 1.8-times more likely to develop VTE than non-users.
Blood clots can be life-threatening when they cut off circulation to tissues or organs, which can cause complications like pulmonary embolism, heart attack, and death. Researchers suggested that NSAIDs might imbalance levels of prostacyclin and thromboxane in the bloodstream.
Another study published this year found higher rates of gastrointestinal bleeding in patients who used NSAIDs in combination with low-dose aspirin or COX-2 inhibitors, which are NSAIDs that target the enzyme COX-2.
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