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This common pain reliever (and others like it) may pose a heart risk for some. What you need to know.

Dr. Roshini Raj
October 08, 2015

I've been taking ibuprofen for all my aches and pains for years, but I heard it can cause heart problems. Should I stop using it?

Ibuprofen is a common drug to have on hand for everything from headaches and toothaches to joint pain, muscle soreness and menstrual cramps. That said, doctors have actually known for years that taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs)—including ibuprofen and naproxen—may increase risk of heart attack and stroke. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) added a boxed warning about this issue to prescription nonaspirin NSAID labels back in 2005.

However, the FDA recently conducted a review of new research on NSAIDs. Based on this review, we now know that taking NSAIDs may pose a risk for heart attack and stroke earlier than previously thought—even within the first few weeks of use. What's more, the longer you rely on these drugs, the worse the risk may become. And if you take NSAIDs at higher dosages, you may also be more vulnerable. That's why in July the FDA ordered drug manufacturers to beef up warning labels on Rx nonaspirin products, and will request that makers of over-the-counter nonaspirin products update the info on their labels, too.

People with heart disease or risk factors for heart disease are more likely to face problems when they take NSAIDs. But even those who don't have heart disease or issues such as high blood pressure may be at a greater risk as well.

You can still take ibuprofen, but be sure to stick to the smallest dose you need, and only take it for as long as you really have to. Acetaminophen does not have the same side effects, so consider it as an alternative—while being mindful of its own potential dangers; excessive doses can lead to liver problems.

And keep in mind that you can always start with nondrug options, like hot or cold packs or massage, to help ease your pain.

Health's medical editor, Roshini Rajapaksa, MD, is associate professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine and co-founder of Tula Skincare.

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