The Food and Drug Administration warned last week that the risk of heart attack and stroke from widely used painkillers that include Motrin IB, Aleve and Celebrex but not aspirin was greater than it previously had said. But what does that mean for people who take them?
Experts said that the warning reflected the gathering evidence that there was risk even in small amounts of the drug, so-called nonaspirin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or Nsaids, and that everyone taking them should use them sparingly for brief periods. Millions of Americans take them.
"One of the underlying messages for this warning has to be there are no completely safe pain relievers, period," said Bruce Lambert, director of the Center for Communication and Health at Northwestern University, who specializes in drug safety communication.
But the broader context is important. The relative risk of heart attack and stroke from the drugs is still far smaller than the risk from smoking, having uncontrolled high blood pressure or being obese. At the same time, use of the drugs by someone with those other habits and conditions could compound the risk.
"The additional risk is relatively small, but it could be the straw that breaks the camel's back for someone already at risk," Professor Lambert said. The evidence that the drugs increase the risk of heart attack, stroke and heart failure "is now extremely solid," he said.