Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are commonly used for pain relief in the U.S., both by prescription and over-the-counter. NSAIDs are often used to treat inflammation and pain and most people take these drugs believing they are safe. However, the side effects of NSAIDs can not only send someone to the hospital, but they can also be fatal.
Long-term use of these drugs or NSAID poisoning can lead to severe side effects such as hearing loss and gastrointestinal bleeding. Recent research shows that even short-term use of NSAIDs can result in harmful side effects, such as an increased risk of a heart attack.
As an increasing number of NSAIDs that are on the market are causing serious health problems, further studies are being conducted on the side effects of these common pain relievers and if the risks of the drug outweigh the benefits.
A myocardial infarction, more commonly referred to as a heart attack, occurs when damage is done to the heart muscle after its blood supply is blocked. The signs of a heart attack are not always clear or even related to the heart. While chest pain is the most common symptom, people can experience other symptoms such as nausea and shortness of breath. These symptoms may seem subtle, but they can have enormous consequences.
NSAIDs and Heart Attack Risk
Studies have recently been done to evaluate the risk of a heart attack associated with the use of NSAIDs. Researchers gathered information from European and Canadian studies and healthcare databases in order to evaluate the probability of having a heart attack during the first week of taking specific NSAIDs.
The studies found an increasing probability of a person suffering a heart attack in the first week for several types of NSAIDs, including the popular drug ibuprofen. The risk of having a heart attack increased 24% with celecoxib, 48% with ibuprofen, 50% with diclofenac, 53% with naproxen, and 58% with rofecoxib, which has since been removed from the market.
Further, the studies showed that there was an increased risk of having a heart attack with higher doses of NSAIDs, which is more likely to happen with prescription doses than over-the-counter doses.
Warnings also noted that taking NSAIDs can increase the risk of having a heart attack in people regardless of their history or risk of heart disease. However, patients who are treated with NSAIDs during their first year following a heart attack are more likely to pass away than those who refrain from taking NSAIDs.
The Differences Between NSAIDs
In studies, celecoxib and diclofenac showed one wave of increased risk during the first week of use, while ibuprofen, rofecoxib, and naproxen showed an additional elevated risk during throughout the second through fourth weeks of consuming the drug. It is possible that the differences between the various NSAIDs are related to the individual drugs’ effect on the renal system.
Due to the findings of MI risk associated with the use of rofecoxib and results from earlier studies, rofecoxib was removed from the market.
Further Risks of NSAIDs
NSAIDs can have other negative impacts on one's health, including an increased risk for miscarriage during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. Studies have shown that women who took NSAIDs early on in their pregnancy more than doubled their risk of miscarriage.
The researchers believe that the drug’s effect on the lipid compounds that support a pregnancy may be the issue. Additionally, NSAID use is associated with atrial fibrillation in those who have had a heart attack in the past. You may not think this applies to you, however, research shows that up to 45% of heart attacks are asymptomatic and clinically silent. These heart attacks are often not discovered until the patient has a routine physical exam or electrocardiogram where a doctor can see that there has been damage done to the heart muscle.
In addition to an increased risk of a heart attack, using NSAIDs also increases one's risk of bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract. While upper GI bleeding is reported more often than lower GI bleeding, there is also a risk for inflammation and increased mucosal permeability in the lower GI tract. Lower GI bleeding can result in anemia, protein loss, occult blood loss, and malabsorption.
Painkillers Can Be Dangerous
Use of over-the-counter NSAIDs have also been associated with hearing loss and renal function abnormalities, such as fluid retention, reduced renal function, and electrolyte complications. High doses or long-term use of NSAIDs are associated with kidney damage that may become permanent and lead to kidney failure.
Opioid prescriptions rose 100% between 2000 and 2010, which is likely linked to the global epidemic of opioid addiction. Patients who have been on opioids for just one month show significant changes in their brain volume. The number of opioid-related deaths rose from just over 10,000 each year in 2002 to almost 35,000 in 2015. Due to this addiction epidemic, some states are trying to hold manufacturers accountable for deceptive marketing practices that led to the current addiction problem.
Drug-Free Pain Management
Trying to manage pain without addressing the causative issue is likely to increase your risk of having harmful side effects from the medication. It is best to explore other options before using painkillers, even if it is only for a short period of time. Many pain-relieving drugs may increase your risk of having heart attack, alter your behavior, and even change your brain chemistry.
One great option for drug-free pain management is getting sufficient sleep. Getting a full eight hours of sleep every night can help you manage any discomfort that you are having.