NSAIDs Increase Heart Attack Risk in Just 1 Week!

by Chris Centeno, MD /

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nsaids heart attack risk

My views on nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are no secret; I’ve covered many studies over the years showing just how dangerous these commonly used anti-inflammatories really are. Patients pop over-the-counter and prescription NSAIDs for everything from a simple headache to post-workout muscle aches to arthritis to traumatic injuries and more. They are as common to our medicine cabinets as salt and pepper are to our spice cabinets, yet the risks of NSAID use just keep adding up, and just when we think it can’t get any worse, it does!

While the dangers of long-term use, for a month or longer, have been a heavy focus in many high-level studies, a new study now suggests that NSAIDs increase heart attack risk very significantly even after taking them for just a week. So if you think your risk is minimized because you’re only taking that Motrin for a few days, not long term, you’ll want to pay close attention to this post. Before we delve into the newest study, let’s review NSAIDs and prior studies we’ve covered.

Meet the Most Dangerous Aisle in the Drugstore or Grocery

nsaid risks

The other day, I had to get my passport renewed and I needed a new head shot, so I had time to wander around a Walgreens (hence the pic above). NSAIDs that you are likely most familiar with are the ones you can walk into Walgreens or CVS and purchase right off the shelf. Ibuprofen is probably the most common, and it is sold under brand names such as Advil and Motrin. Naproxen is a long-lasting NSAID sold as Aleve. Another common NSAID is aspirin. NSAIDs can also come in a prescription form, including celecoxib (Celebrex) and meloxicam (Mobic). All NSAIDs carry risks for dangerous side effects.

NSAIDs are not acetaminophen, which you would find in Tylenol for example. While both Advil and Tylenol will address pain, what sets the Advil, and all other NSAIDs, apart is their ability to address and inhibit inflammation. Keep in mind that inflammation is usually your immune system’s response to an acute condition or injury, and its purpose is to allow the body to self-heal. So stifling that process by popping an NSAID not only introduces the potential for dangerous side effects but also fights the body’s natural healing process.

Chronic inflammation can be more difficult to tackle, but there are ways to address it, in most cases, without resorting to NSAIDs, including exercise, supplements, and proper diet.

The Many Side Effects of NSAIDs

With so many studies concluding their dangers, it should be impossible to ignore, yet it seems that is exactly what is happening as doctors are still recommending NSAIDs for every ache and pain, and consumers are still buying them over the counter more than any other drug class. This is despite the fact that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued stern warnings about the fact that NSAIDs increase heart attack risk and stroke risks and the American Heart Association (AHA) has also issued warnings on the high risks of NSAIDs.

Let’s take a look at some of the studies showing these dangerous side effects of NSAIDs:

NSAIDs Increase Heart Attack Risk After Just One Week?

The new study was a large-scale investigation looking at the outcomes of over 400,000 subjects, comparing the risks of heart attack in patients who were taking NSAIDs with those who were not. The study recorded the NSAID that was being taken (ibuprofen, naproxen, celecoxib, etc.), when and how often taken, and the dosage. Results showed not only what we already knew—that taking NSAIDs for a month or longer increased the risk of heart attack—but also any dose of NSAIDs increase heart attack risk even when taken for as little as one week. Another surprising finding of this study was the fact that even naproxen (Aleve), which hasn’t shown the same level of risks as other NSAIDs, was also found to significantly increase the risk for heart attack in this study.

The upshot? It’s no longer safe to assume popping an NSAID (even naproxen) for a few days for a few minor aches and pains is OK. After all, you’re not taking them long enough to get hooked; however, this new study suggests that because NSAIDs increase heart attack risk so significantly in such a short time, you’re unknowingly and unnecessarily increasing your risk of a heart attack. So just when we think we’ve seen the worst with NSAIDs, another study proves us wrong. Our best recommendation at this point—taking one NSAID is one NSAID too many.

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14 thoughts on “NSAIDs Increase Heart Attack Risk in Just 1 Week!

  1. Perla

    If I have Lupus and the doctor told my that I need to take the baby aspirin every day to prevent clots, What can I do to replace this medicine? I used to have warfarin but they took it away.

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Perla,
      Medicine is always risk vs benefit and blood clots are important. These are questions to discuss with your Doctor. A baby aspirin would have the least risk of the NSAIDs tested.

  2. Lynn Cole

    Yeah well, until they invest in discovering a better alternative, gotta do what we gotta do.
    Sometimes you just have to get through your day. I had been taking Motrin 800mg for years on a pretty steady basis, but since a partial knee replacement last June, I have weaned myself off of them. However, there are times when it’s the only thing that settles down the aching joints…..especially if I’m trying to play golf or bowl. I am now 62 and admit I can use a little more exercise, but that’s just a vicious circle of more achy pain. There is no winning when it comes to getting our pain under control.

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Lynn,
      Fish oil, curcumin and glucosamine and chondroitin have helped many people get off NSAIDs. Please see: https://regenexx.com/blog/nsaid-addict-can/ and https://regenexx.com/blog/can-nsaids-make-arthritis-worse/

  3. chris

    I am assuming this also includes aspirin. Kinda of ironic being that if you have any heart trouble (like a fib), doctors will automatically put you on aspirin to help prevent further problems.

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      chris,
      True. CoQ10 has significant cardiac protective qualities. Please see: https://regenexx.com/blog/coq10-halves-heart-disease-deaths-well-done-study/ But these things must be discussed with one’s Doctor.

  4. Cliff

    So what is the alternative? What do you prescribe to help with pain due to inflammation?

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Cliff,
      We recommend fish oil -it’s a very effective anti-inflammatory, and, it increases the signal to stop inflammation and turn on healing. Please see: https://regenexx.com/blog/new-research-fish-oil-can-turn-bad-inflammation-into-healing/ and Curcumin (the active ingredient in Turmeric) Please see: https://regenexx.com/blog/does-curcumin-work/ and Glucosamine and Chondroitin: https://regenexx.com/blog/supplements-for-arthritis/
      For our patients, over and above cardiac and other risks, NSAIDs are contra-indicated. Please see: https://regenexx.com/blog/nsaids-and-stem-cells/ and https://regenexx.com/blog/can-nsaids-make-arthritis-worse/ and https://regenexx.com/blog/motrin-alternatives/

  5. Carla Elam-Floyd

    I really appreciate this information on NSAIDs! I’ve been taking them for years to deal with pain during the day and to help me sleep at night. Since I’ve been working with your clinic, I’ve stopped taking them (except the low dose aspirin) and started taking fish oil and Curcumin. Along with the treatment I’ve received from your clinic, the pain in my knees is much improved and I’m grateful to be off the NSAIDS.

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Carla,
      Great news!

  6. sharon bouchers

    When and what dosage should an older (63) female take to help calm down inflammation after hard workouts?
    Also, I noticed that Glucosamine/chondroitin (and MSM) caps contain lactose, which I am intolerant of. I have not found it without dairy.
    Can you help with the above? Sharon

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Sharon,
      Longterm, an exam and some bloodwork to figure out what’s going on. Short term, Fish oil is both a great antinflammatory and can flip the switch which turns damaging inflammation to healing, and curcumin with bioperrine are both worth a try. Please see: https://regenexx.com/blog/nsaid-addict-can/ and https://regenexx.com/blog/new-research-fish-oil-can-turn-bad-inflammation-into-healing/ and https://regenexx.com/blog/chronic-inflammation-back-pain/ and https://regenexx.com/blog/bad-study-can-teach-right-way-take-curcumin/

  7. Bill Shipley

    Do the risks of nsaids decrease after stopping taking them or is it a cumulative thing?
    Thanks
    Bill

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Bill ,
      The simplified version of the issue seems to be that inhibiting Cox 2, which is what NSAIDs do, tends to cause hardening of the arteries. Here are some strategies to get off them: https://regenexx.com/blog/nsaid-addict-can/

Chris Centeno, MD

Regenexx Founder

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications.
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