Protect the Heart, Use Common Over-The-Counter Pain Relievers Thoughtfully, From the December 2015 Harvard Men's Health Watch

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Common pain relievers known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) carry an added risk of heart problems.

In July 2015, the FDA repeated a previous warning about the heart hazards of common prescription and over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve). Should these medications be avoided at all costs?

Not necessarily. These medications are still a valuable tool for pain control for tens of millions of men, according to the December 2015 issue of the Harvard Men's Health Watch. “People don’t have to be scared that they can never take an NSAID,” says Dr. Christian Ruff, a cardiologist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Studies have shown that NSAIDs are associated with higher risk of heart attacks, which is greatest in people with known heart disease or multiple risk factors for it. In studies to date, naproxen has shown the smallest risk. The risk rises with the dose used and the length of time that the drugs are taken.

People at high risk of heart problems should discuss NSAID safety with their doctors. But everyone can take basic precautions:

Use only what you need. Don’t start off by “bombing” pain with NSAIDs. Take the lowest dose first, and then raise it only if it doesn’t work. Many people obtain acceptable relief of their symptoms, such as pain and swelling, at low to moderate doses.

Stop ASAP. Severe pain demands a response, but when it becomes a dull ache, try to ease off the NSAIDs and shift to comforting remedies like hot baths or cold packs.

Read the full-length article: “Heart-safer NSAID alternatives

Also in the December 2015 issue of the Harvard Men's Health Watch:

  • Is it really erectile dysfunction?
  • Taking calcium supplements
  • Counseling for insomnia — more effective than sleeping pills
  • Walk-in health clinic guide

The Harvard Men's Health Watch is available from Harvard Health Publications, the publishing division of Harvard Medical School, for $20 per year. Subscribe at or by calling 877-649-9457 (toll-free).


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Kristen Rapoza
Harvard Health Publications
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