When you take these popular pain relievers, proceed with caution

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

Published: December, 2020

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.")

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