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Another way ibuprofen can kill us?

Does ibuprofen really raise your risk of heart failure by 83%? No.

Does ibuprofen really raise your risk of heart failure by 83%? No.

Do you ever take ibuprofen? Naproxen? Cold medication with an anti-inflammatory ingredient? The non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are among our most well-loved medications. We start giving them in infancy, for fever, and continue use through to adulthood for everyday aches and pains. But it’s our later stages of life when we really ramp up the use, and daily consumption becomes common for conditions like arthritis. While they may be easily accessible and included as ingredients in thousands of consumer products, NSAIDs have a long list of potentially serious side effects. Not only can they cause stomach ulcers and bleeding by damaging the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, they can also increase the risk of fatal cardiovascular disease. Now there’s new research that looks at the relationship between NSAIDs and heart failure, a condition where the heart cannot pump adequately and appropriately. The study, “Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and risk of heart failure in four European countries: nested case-control study” resulted in some fairly dramatic, alarming headlines:
daily mirror headline NSAIDS ibuprofen heart failure

Headlines like this suggest that NSAIDs are killing us indiscriminately, which may make you wonder how so many of us manage to have lived this long. And while The Daily Mirror got the facts wrong, they quoted from a well-conducted study. There is a real risk of heart failure from NSAIDs. But context is everything. (more…)

Posted in: Science and Medicine

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The evolving story of the harms of anti-inflammatory drugs

Advil (ibuprofen)

Owing to summer vacation, today’s post updates a 2011 post and a 2013 post with some new information.

Anti-inflammatory drugs are among the most well-loved products in the modern medicine cabinet. They can provide good pain control, reduce inflammation, and eliminate fever. We give non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in infancy, continuing through childhood and then adulthood for the aches and pains of modern living. It’s the later stages of life where NSAIDs are used most frequently, usually in the treatment of joint disease like osteoarthritis, which eventually affects pretty much everyone. Over 17 million Americans use NSAIDs on a daily basis, and this number will grow as the population ages. While they’re widely used, they also have a long list of side effects. Not only can they cause stomach ulcers and bleeding by damaging the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, cardiovascular risks are also significant.

It was the arrival (and withdrawal) of the drugs Bextra (valdecoxib) and Vioxx (rofecoxib) that led to a much better understanding of the potential for these drugs to increase the risks of heart attacks and strokes. And it’s now well-documented that these effects are not limited to the “COX-2″ drugs – almost all NSAIDs, including the old standbys we have used for years, raise the risk of heart attacks and strokes. (more…)

Posted in: Clinical Trials, Politics and Regulation, Science and the Media

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Topical NSAIDs

I have a mental basket of drugs that I suspect may be placebos. In that basket were the topical versions of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). When the first products were commercially marketed over a decade ago, I found the clinical evidence unconvincing, and I suspected that the modestly positive effects were probably due to simply rubbing the affected area, or possibly due to the effects of the cream or vehicle itself. Frankly, I didn’t think these products worked. So when I recently noticed a topical NSAID appear for sale as an over-the-counter treatment for muscle aches and pains (seemingly only in Canada, for now), I was confident it would make a good case study in bad science.

It’s not that I’m partial to the oral NSAIDs. Yes, they’re among the most versatile, and probably most well-loved drugs in our modern medicine cabinet. They offer good pain control, reduce inflammation and can eliminate fever. We start using it in our sick and feverish infants, through childhood and adulthood for the aches and pains of modern life, and into our later years for the treatment of degenerative disease like osteoarthritis, which affects pretty much everyone as we age. An astonishing 17 million Americans use NSAIDs on a daily basis, and this number is expected to grow as the population ages. In the running groups I frequent, ibuprofen has the affectionate nickname “Vitamin I”, where it’s perceived as an essential ingredient for dealing with the consequences of training.

But NSAIDs have a long list of side effects. Not only do they cause stomach ulcers and bleeding by damaging the gastrointestinal mucosa, there are heart risks, too. It was the arrival (and departure) of the drugs Bextra and Vioxx that led to documentation of the potential for cardiovascular toxicity. And now there’s data to suggest that these effects are not limited to the “COX-2” drugs – almost all NSAIDs, including the old standbys we have used for years, seem capable of raising the risks of heart attacks and strokes.

So despite my initial skepticism, I took another look at the topical NSAIDs. The data were not what I expected.

(more…)

Posted in: Pharmaceuticals, Science and Medicine

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