Topical pain relievers may be less risky for the heart than pills

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The pain relievers known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) help ease the ache of arthritis. But taking these pills regularly can increase blood pressure and worsen heart disease. Now, new research suggests that topical NSAIDs (available by prescription in gel form) may pose less risk than the pills.

Researchers tracked heart attacks, strokes, and other heart-related problems in more than 46,000 people with rheumatoid arthritis over a nine-year period. People who used topical NSAIDs (even those who already had heart disease) had fewer of these cardiovascular events than those who took oral NSAIDs, according to the study, published in the Oct. 27, 2017, Journal of the American Heart Association.

Oral NSAIDs include the over-the-counter drugs ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn) and many prescription drugs, including celecoxib (Celebrex) and diclofenac (Voltaren). Topical NSAIDs may be safer than oral ones because the drug stays close to the site of application, so levels in the blood and more remote tissues remain low. But more research is needed to clarify these possible benefits, the study authors say.

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