Recent Blog Articles

Heart Health

When you take these popular pain relievers, proceed with caution

December 01, 2020

Over-the-counter and prescription drugs known as NSAIDs pose a risk to the cardiovascular system.

2ad0e3ce-8b71-40ad-a8bc-53ef8d9b78f0

Many people stock pain relievers in their medicine cabinets for headaches or strained muscles. Among the most common are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which include the over-the-counter pills ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), as well many prescription drugs (see "Commonly used NSAIDs").

As their name indicates, NSAIDs help to reduce inflammation. For this reason, they may be more effective than other pain relievers — namely acetaminophen (Tylenol) — for certain conditions, such as arthritis. But because NSAIDs are available without a prescription, people often assume these drugs are completely safe. And they may overlook the warning that appears on ibuprofen and naproxen labels, which reads "Heart attack and stroke warning: NSAIDs, except aspirin, increase the risk of heart attack, heart failure, and stroke. These can be fatal. The risk is higher if you use more than directed or for longer than directed." (Although technically an NSAID, aspirin is a unique case; see "Aspirin advice.")

To continue reading this article, you must log in.

Subscribe to Harvard Health Online for immediate access to health news and information from Harvard Medical School.

  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »

I'd like to receive access to Harvard Health Online for only $4.99 a month.

Sign Me Up

Already a member? Login ».

Disclaimer:

As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.