How OTC painkillers put your heart, kidneys at risk

Some of the over the counter pain relief medications commonly taken for mild to moderate pain, particularly non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), could be putting you at a much higher risk for serious health problems.

NSAIDs are widely used as a easily accessible remedy for treating everyday ailments such a s headaches, fevers, menstrual cramps, sport-related injuries, and arthritis.

Doctors and pharmacists have long known that non-aspirin, non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs called NSAIDS (stands for Non-Steroid, Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) may increase the chance of a heart attack or stroke, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Painkillers and anti-inflammatories that put you at risk

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is strengthening the existing “Drug Facts” label warning of some pain killing drugs for both prescription strength and over-the-counter varieties, which are purchased by millions of people, usually at pharmacies, many retail stores and even gas stations.

Some NSAIDS include ibuprofen (for example, Motrin or Advil), naproxen, and diclofenac.

Serious side effects of taking these painkillers can occur as early as the first few weeks of using these drugs, and the risk can rise if the pain relievers are used habitually over time to mask chronic pain.

NSAIDs are not good for blood pressure either. People who have cardiovascular disease, particularly those who recently had a heart attack or cardiac bypass surgery, are at the greatest risk associated with taking NSAIDs, according to the FDA.

NSAIDs are bad for your kidneys and heart, especially over long term use

NSAIDs painkillers and anti-inflammatory medications can also cause substantial kidney damage when used for long periods of time. Long-term use of NSAIDs causes your body to hold onto fluid. This can make the symptoms such as swollen ankles, and a rapid or irregular heartbeat, a lot worse.

Latinos are at higher risk when taking NSAIDs

One group who should be especially careful about taking painkillers and other NSAIDs, is Latinos. One of the reasons is cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of death among Hispanic men and women in the U.S., as the American Heart Association (AHA) reports.

A recent survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more than a quarter (26.1 percent) of Hispanics in the U.S. reported having high blood pressure.

Projections show that by 2030, an additional 3.4 million people aged 18 years or older will have a stroke, a 20.5% increase in prevalence from 2012. The highest increase (29%) is projected to be in Hispanic men, according to the AHA.

The CDC recently reported nearly a third (30.4 percent) of Hispanics with high blood pressure in the U.S. aren’t taking any medication that could reduce their risk for a heart attack and/or stroke.

Language and cultural barriers make it difficult for Hispanics to understand their condition, but it’s important to seek out this advice.

So what’s the best choice for relieving pain if you are at higher risk?

saludmóvil’s Dr. Joseph Mosquera believes over-the-counter Tylenol (generic acetaminophen) can be a good choice for people with high blood pressure, heart failure, or kidney problems.

Dr. Mosquera also recommends people talk to their pharmacist or doctor before considering taking NSAID medications, both prescription or over-the-counter. It’s especially important to regularly check in with your doctor if you are taking painkillers for chronic pain.

Ask if acetaminophen is an approved alternative for your pain.

Also, always read labels carefully. If they contain NSAIDS and you have risk factors for heart disease, stroke, or heart failure, please discuss this with your physician or pharmacist.

There is clear scientific risk when taking them, and the healthiest patient is the well-informed patient.  

You can also go to the FDA’s Consumer Updates page, which offers the latest information on all FDA-regulated products.

Managing pain without taking drugs

Non-drug treatments, such as yoga or massage, can often reduce or even replace the need for drugs. Overall, getting regular exercise that is impact-appropriate to the nature of your pain can reduce discomfort and give you more energy.