If you don’t have a heart condition, it’s probably safe for you to take a painkiller for a few days, but take the lowest possible dose, says the FDA.
The agency issued its first alert about painkillers and heart problems back in 2005, but its expert panel has since come up with new information that has triggered the stronger warning.
Common painkillers known as the NSAIDs (non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs), which include over-the-counter preparations such as ibuprofen and naproxen, and prescription-only remedies such as celecoxib and diclofenac, are included in the warning, as is Naproxen, which was previously considered a safer NSAID. The only one to escape the warning is aspirin, which doesn’t seem to increase heart attack risk.
In the new alert, the FDA warns that the risk of stroke and heart attack increases even with short-term use, and could be after just a couple of weeks. The risk also increases with larger doses, and is greatest among those who have an existing heart condition. In fact, people with heart disease should look for alternative painkillers, such as paracetamol (acetaminophen), suggests the FDA. However, paracetamol does increase the risk of liver damage at high doses, or if you’re also drinking more than three glasses of alcohol a day.
If you are a long-term user of a NSAID for a chronic condition such as arthritis, take a week’s holiday from the drug, suggests the FDA.