By Andrea Lowe, SWHR Health Policy and Public Health Liaison
Last summer, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued strong warnings on the use of non-aspirin nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – better known to most as ibuprofen (think Motrin® or Advil®) or naproxen (Aleve®) [1,2].
An FDA Advisory Committee found NSAID use can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke as well as kidney damage and gastrointestinal bleeding. In addition, these risks can occur within the first few weeks of regular use and can increase with prolonged use and higher dosages. The findings are even more alarming for people who have already suffered a heart attack or heart failure: Research has found people are more likely to die in their first year after a heart attack if using NSAIDs. People living with heart failure are also more likely to experience myocardial infarction, hospitalizations, or death .
However, evidence shows not all NSAIDs have the same health risks, as observational studies indicate naproxen may have a lower cardiovascular risk compared to others in this drug class. Findings from the University of Oxford estimate a significant increase in hospitalizations for heart failure with use of certain NSAIDs . As a result, more research is needed to understand how different NSAIDs work within various populations and subpopulations.
These warnings are especially concerning since we know women and minorities experience pain more often and in greater severity than white men, and are therefore more likely to need and use NSAIDs. Pregnant women already are cautioned against NSAIDs, especially during late pregnancy, as such drugs are known to cause severe health issues in developing fetuses . The bottom line? Short-term, limited use of NSAIDs is still considered safe, but experts agree that patients should not take NSAIDs for long-term pain relief .
Fortunately, the FDA is now requiring pharmaceutical companies to update their prescription and over-the-counter drug labels and factsheets with these new warnings. In the meantime, if you are experiencing any side effects or symptoms (including chest pain, trouble breathing, or slurred speech) while taking NSAIDs, see a healthcare professional immediately.
The Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR®) is committed to researching and publicizing the sex differences of drug use. For more information and resources, visit SWHR’s website.
- n.p. FDA Drug Safety Communication: FDA strengthens warning that non-aspirin nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can cause heart attacks or strokes. U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 2015. Web. 6 Jan. 2015. <http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/DrugSafety/ucm451800.htm>.
- n.p. What are NSAIDs?. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, 2009. Web. 6 Jan. 2015. <http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00284>
- Antonucci, Robert et al. “Use of Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs in Pregnancy: Impact on the Fetus and Newborn.” Current Drug Metabolism. 13.4 (2012): 474-90. Print.
The Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR ®) is a national non-profit based in Washington D.C. that is widely recognized as the thought-leader in promoting research on biological differences in disease and is dedicated to transforming women’s health through science, advocacy, and education.