From Headache to Heartache: NSAIDs Pose Heart Dangers

From Headache to Heartache: NSAIDs Pose Heart Dangers

Read the fine print the next time you pick up a bottle of ibuprofen or naproxen. You’ll see a warning about the risk for potentially deadly heart attacks and strokes. These drugs are known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories or NSAIDs.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) leaving site icon requires NSAIDs to be labeled with a strong message about their dangers. Detailed risk information warns users that:

  • The longer an individual takes NSAIDs, the greater the risk. However, heart attacks and strokes can happen within the first few weeks of use.
  • The higher the dose, the greater the danger.
  • People with heart disease or risk factors like high blood pressure, face the greatest risk.
  • Heart attack and stroke events can happen even in otherwise healthy people.

The warnings also apply to prescription NSAIDs such as diclofenac (Voltaren®) and celecoxib (Celebrex®). Your doctor might order these for chronic pain from arthritis or other health issues.

The warnings do not apply to aspirin, even though it belongs to this class of drugs. If you take low-dose aspirin to prevent heart attacks or strokes, taking another NSAID might decrease the protection you get.

The warnings don’t mean you should never take these drugs. They are still effective treatments for pain, inflammation and fever. People with heart problems or high blood pressure should talk with their doctor before using them.

Read all drug labels with care. Many multi-symptom cold medicines also contain NSAIDs, so make sure you don’t take a double dose.

If you do take NSAIDs, get medical attention right away if you have symptoms of a heart attack or stroke. These include sudden chest pain, weakness on one side of the body, slurred speech or trouble breathing.

You can read more about the NSAID warning on the FDA website. leaving site icon

Source: FDA Strengthens Warning That Non-Aspirin Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) can Cause Heart Attacks or Strokesleaving site icon U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 2018.

Originally published 2/4/2016; Revised 2019, 2021, 2023