Keeping it real and using science to explain

Is popping pain killers riskier than we thought?


Fresh calls to restrict Ibuprofen sales come after study reveals increased cardiac risk after just days of use.

New research raises doubt about the long term effects of over-the-counter pain relievers including ibuprofen, naproxen and diclofenac also known as NSAIDS. Historically, these readily accessible pain relievers were associated with very low risks. Not anymore. Research published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) concludes that people with high blood pressure or a history of heart disease put themselves at risk of a heart attack after just days of NSAIDS use.

Although the effects of dose size, treatment length, and different types of NSAIDS were unclear, last year’s study was a surprising warning of the health consequences and side-effects of a drug previously thought to be relatively harmless.

“NSAIDs can cause water and sodium retention,” said Dr Michele Bally of the University of Montreal. “This can lead to small changes in your blood pressure. But even small increases (as little as 2 to 3 mmHg)* over time can be enough to trigger a heart attack.”

 *Background on blood pressure (American Heart Association)

         A healthy blood pressure is under 120/80 mmHg

         High blood pressure is over 140/90 mmHg

         1 in 3 American adults have high blood pressure, according to a 2013 National survey update

  So, what does this all mean?

For the millions of people who regularly take over-the-counter pain medications for headaches, menstrual cramps, and back pain, the results of the study do indeed sound alarming.

But it is important to remember that using NSAIDs does not necessarily put you at greater risk than someone who doesn’t. Your risk depends on various well-understood risk factors that are likely to have much more of an impact than using high dose NSAIDs to relieve short term pain.

“Your absolute heart attack risk depends on many factors, like family history, blood pressure, cholesterol, whether you smoke, or if you have diabetes, said Bally”

Should I throw out my Naproxen?

Not necessarily, but do think twice. If you have high blood pressure or history of cardiovascular disease, you may want to consider other options before taking high dose NSAIDs.

If you must use an NSAID pain reliever, take the lowest possible dose for shortest time.

My advice, ask your physician to identify whether or not you have elevated risks for using over-the-counter pain medications. Also ask your doctor to weigh the risks vs. benefits, and to clarify safe dosages.

Natural Alternatives to Pain Killers


  1. Acupuncture A traditional Chinese treatment in which fine filiform needles are inserted into the body, acupuncture works by stimulating and relieving muscles. Acupuncture can be effective for many conditions, including neck pain, back pain, headaches, Sciatica, and other conditions.
  2. Dry needling Also known as Myofascial Acupuncture or Sports Acupuncture, dry needling can be an effective short term technique for chronic hip and joint pain.
  3. Moist heat or ice pack

A general rule of thumb is to use ice for painful acute injuries, inflammation, and swelling. Use heat for muscle pain or stiffness.

  1. Yoga Yoga is a mind-body and exercise practice that combines breath control, meditation, and movements to stretch and strengthen muscles. Research shows yoga can help people with arthritis, fibromyalgia, migraine, low back pain, and many other types of chronic pain conditions.
  2. Meditation and mindfulness Mindfulness meditation, a mind-body technique combining breathing with a reduction in physical sensations, can be a moderately effective approach for pain relief.
  3. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavior Therapists believe individuals create their own experiences, pain included. By changing thoughts and behaviors, people can change their awareness of pain. They may also develop coping skills that allow them to function even if the actual level of pain stays the same.

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