Take over-the-counter painkillers sparingly.
That’s the take-home message of an alarming new report showing increased risk of heart attack in those who take ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) regularly and in high doses, according to renowned cardiologist Chauncey Crandall, M.D.
People with arthritis and other chronic pain conditions should use non-drug methods for relief whenever possible, taking drugs only when absolutely necessary, he says.
"People tend to view arthritis as an inevitable part of aging, but that's not true," Dr. Crandall tells Newsmax Health.
The results of a large new international study showed painkillers known as NSAIDs, which include ibuprofen (Advil) and diclofenac (Voltaren) are "equally hazardous" in terms of heart attack risk as the drug Vioxx, the painkiller pulled from the market because of safety concerns over heart attack and stroke risks.
Naproxen (Alleve) was found in the study not to increase heart risk, but Dr. Crandall believes that it should also be taken in the lowest amounts possible. The same goes for acetaminophen (Tylenol).
"Arthritis drugs can kill. We’ve known that for while. They are hard on the heart, and they are also hard on the kidneys and make people vulnerable not only to heart attacks, but to kidney failure as well," he says.
"We are a society in which people think they can just pop a pill whenever something bothers them instead of looking into non-drug methods. People don’t understand that all drugs have side effects," adds Dr. Crandall, chief of the cardiac transplant program at the world-renowned Palm Beach Cardiovascular Clinic in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
"One thing that people have a tendency to ignore is the effect of extra weight on the joints. As the rates of obesity have gone up so has the incidence of arthritis. Losing weight is one of the most effective treatments for arthritis."
In addition, arthritis sufferers should also try eliminating gluten and milk proteins from their diet, which both have been shown to add to inflammation, which can translate into muscle aches.
"Also drink a small glass of cherry juice or eat a handful of cherries every day," Dr. Crandall advises. Multiple studies have found that cherries, which are rich in antioxidants, help lower pain-causing inflammation. Additional non-drug therapies that can offer relief are massages, steam rooms, and saunas.
For those who need painkilling drugs, aspirin is a safest choice. "Aspirin is an older drug and it tends to have fewer side effects," notes Dr. Crandall, author of the Heart Health Report.
Although aspirin is not completely side effect free — it can stomach bleeding — taking a regular dose of aspirin occasionally is generally safe.
The bottom line of the new research is that neither aspirin nor other NSAIDS should be taken in high doses every day for pain.
"These drugs should be reserved for use only when needed, like if you’re going to be playing tennis or golf and you know you’re going to be in extreme pain without it. But not on a daily basis," says Dr. Crandall.
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