Got Heart Disease? 7 Factors When Choosing Pain Relievers

  • happy-middle-age-couple-embracing
    Play it safe with pain relief.
    Millions of people with heart disease take pain relievers and, in general, they are safe and effective. But when pain strikes, there are a few precautions and things to consider before reaching into your medicine cabinet.

  • woman-holding-out-pill-in-hand
    1. NSAIDs ease pain and inflammation.
    When people with heart disease are in pain, they often turn to pain relievers called NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), which not only help with pain, but can also reduce inflammation (swelling and redness). NSAIDs include generic and store-brand naproxen or ibuprofen, which is also found in some cold medicines. They are available over-the-counter and by prescription. Taking NSAIDs at the same time as aspirin could cause serious complications. Be sure to talk to your doctor if you’re on an aspirin regimen for heart hearth.

  • Pain Killer Pills or Tablets
    2. Acetaminophen reduces pain, but not inflammation.
    Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is another pain reliever that can help those with heart disease, but it does not have an anti-inflammatory effect. One benefit of taking acetaminophen is that it generally does not upset the gastrointestinal tract, like NSAIDs can. If over-the-counter acetaminophen does not work for you, ask your doctor about using a stronger prescription painkiller.

  • Senior with Chest Pain
    3. NSAIDs can lead to possible serious side effects.
    Talk to your doctor about the lowest effective dose of NSAIDs for your pain, and how long you should use them, Potential serious side effects could occur, especially when taken on a long-term basis. These may include: heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, heart failure from retaining water (swelling), liver or kidney problems (including liver or kidney failure), bleeding and ulcers in the stomach and intestine, low red blood cells (anemia), life-threatening skin or allergic reactions, and asthma attacks in people who have asthma.

  • Women with pain
    4. Consider the less-serious side effects.
    Other possible side effects from NSAID use can include stomach pain, constipation, diarrhea, gas, heartburn, nausea, vomiting and dizziness. If any of these are a problem for you, try switching to acetaminophen, or ask your doctor about a prescription pain reliever that will be easier on your stomach.

  • Pill in hand
    5. Take one NSAID at a time.
    To minimize potential side effects, be careful not to take more than one product that contains an NSAID at a time. If you’re not sure if this applies to the drugs you are taking, check the list of active ingredients in the Drug Facts label.

  • man-outside-experiencing-chest-pain
    6. NSAIDs can increase your risk for heart attack or stroke.
    According to the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration), NSAIDs can increase the chance of a heart attack or stroke as early as the first few weeks of use, and the risk may rise the longer they are used. According to studies, people who have already had a heart attack are at an increased risk of having another heart attack or dying of heart attack-related causes if treated with NSAIDs. But the risk is also present in people without cardiovascular disease.

  • hand-holding-aspirin-tablet
    7. Acetaminophen or aspirin is often the best choice.
    Generic acetaminophen is often the best choice for people with high blood pressure, heart failure or kidney problems. But high doses of acetaminophen can damage the liver, so be sure to take the least amount possible to ease your pain. Never take more than 4,000 milligrams (mg) a day (that’s 12 325-mg pills). Aspirin is also often recommended for people at high risk for a heart attack or stroke because it can reduce the risk of a blood clot, which triggers both of these events.

    If you suffer from heart disease and are having trouble finding pain relief, keep in mind that there are many options, both prescription and over-the-counter. But always discuss taking any over-the-counter medication with your doctor first.

Got Heart Disease? 7 Factors When Choosing Pain Relievers

About The Author

Susan Fishman is a veteran freelance writer with more than 25 years of experience in consumer and patient education. Her work has been featured in The Washington Post and The Huffington Post, and on numerous other national health, wellness and parenting sites. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in clinical rehabilitation counseling at Georgia State University.
  1. FDA Strengthens Warning of Heart Attack and Stroke Risk for Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm453610.htm
  2. Taubert KA. Can Patients With Cardiovascular Disease Take Nonsteroidal Antiinflammatory Drugs? Circulation. 2008;117:e322-e324. http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/117/17/e322.full
  3. Bavry AA, Khaliq A, Gong Y, et al. Harmful Effects of NSAIDs among Patients with Hypertension and Coronary Artery Disease. 2011;124(7):614-620.
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Last Review Date: 2018 Apr 19
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