6 Myths About Pain Relievers and Heart Conditions

  • Pause before you pop your next pain pill.
    Many people with heart conditions also experience painful conditions like arthritis or back pain and rely on pain relievers regularly. But recent warnings indicate that picking a pain reliever is not as a simple as browsing the drug store shelves. There’s a lot of misinformation and many factors that can increase or decrease the likelihood of heart attack and stroke when taking pain medications. Make sure you know which myths are putting you at risk.

  • 1. Myth #1: NSAIDs are A-OK.
    This is the #1 myth that was exposed even further by the FDA in 2015 when they strengthened warning labels on nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and stated that these drugs definitely increased risk of heart attack and stroke. These popular pain medications include ibuprofen products like Motrin and Advil, as well as naproxen like Aleve. Doctors recommend trying acetaminophen, such as Tylenol, to manage pain and keep your heart in good health.

  • 2. Myth #2: Dosage doesn’t matter.
    Not only do you need to be careful to avoid certain pain relievers like NSAIDs, but you need to keep an eye on your dosage. Lower doses can be safer and some doctors recommend a “stepped” approach to pain relief. This technique starts patients on the lowest dose of the lowest risk pain medication. If needed, you gradually move step-by-step to other medications while weighing the risks and benefits before you try a new drug or dosage.

  • 3. Myth #3: Duration doesn’t matter, either.
    Even if you find a low-risk pain reliever that helps improve your symptoms, try not to take them regularly for an extended period. Over time you can develop a tolerance to medications and they’ll quit working or even make your pain worse. If you are managing pain, try taking medication only for short spurts when you need it.

  • 4. Myth #4: Any brand will work.
    Affordable generic drugs are often a good choice and just as effective as popular brands. That said, generic drugs that have been on the market for a long time and are prescribed regularly may still have side effects. When a drug has been prescribed for decades, people often assume it’s safe and don’t take time to read about possible negative interactions. No matter what brand you choose, do your homework first.

  • 5. Myth #5: Low-dose aspirin prevents heart attacks
    This myth isn’t 100% false. Low-dose aspirin can lessen the chance of blood clotting and reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke. But the American Heart Association discovered that this benefit is better as secondary prevention for patients who have already suffered a cardiovascular event. There’s no clear evidence that taking low-dose aspirin can prevent an initial stroke or heart attack.

  • 6. Myth #6: Natural remedies are your best bet.
    All this talk of the dangers of NSAIDs and pain relief caution may make you want to turn to natural pain remedies and alternative medicine. These options can be very effective and are definitely worth considering. Just remember to discuss any alternative approaches with your doctor to make sure they don’t interfere with your current medications or treatment plans. Also, herb and natural supplements have side effects, too. So do some research before trying any new remedy.

6 Myths About Pain Relievers and Heart Conditions
  1. Painkillers pose problems for people with heart disease. Harvard Health Publications. http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/painkillers-pose-problems-for-people-with-heart-disease-201107193120
  2. FDA strengthens warning that NSAIDs increase heart attack and stroke risk. Harvard Health Publications. http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/fda-strengthens-warning-that-nsaids-increase-heart-attack-and-stroke-risk-201507138138
  3. NSAIDs and the Risk of Heart Problems and Stroke. Arthritis Foundation. http://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/treatments/medication/drug-types/nsaids/nsaids-heart-...
  4. Cardiology Patient Page: Aspirin. American Heart Association. http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/125/10/e439.full
  5. M edications: Myth Versus Fact. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/More/ConsumerHealthCare/Medications-Myths-Versus-Fact_UCM_4...
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Last Review Date: 2018 Apr 14
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