To protect your heart, use common over-the-counter pain relievers thoughtfully, from the December 2015 Harvard Men's Health Watch

In July 2015, the FDA repeated a previous warning about the heart hazards of common prescription and over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve). Should you avoid these medications at all costs?

Not necessarily. These medications are still a valuable tool for pain control for tens of millions of men, according to the December 2015 issue of the Harvard Men's Health Watch. "You don't have to be scared that you can never take an NSAID," says Dr. Christian Ruff, a cardiologist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital.

Studies have shown that NSAIDs are associated with higher risk of heart attacks, which is greatest in people with known heart disease or multiple risk factors for it. In studies to date, naproxen has shown the smallest risk. The risk rises with the dose used and the length of time that the drugs are taken.

People at high risk of heart problems should discuss NSAID safety with their doctors. But everyone can take basic precautions:

Use only what you need. Don't start off by "bombing" pain with NSAIDs. Take the lowest dose first, and then raise it only if it doesn't work. Many people obtain acceptable relief of their symptoms, such as pain and swelling, at low to moderate doses.

Stop as soon as you can. Severe pain demands a response, but when it becomes a dull ache, try to ease off the NSAIDs and shift to comforting remedies like hot baths or cold packs.

Read the full-length article: "Heart-safer NSAID alternatives"