Pain relievers: A cause of higher heart risk among people with arthritis?

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To manage the painful joint disease known as osteoarthritis, people often take ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve, Anaprox). But these and related drugs — known as NSAIDs — may account for the higher rates of heart disease seen in people with osteoarthritis, a new study suggests.

Researchers matched 7,743 people with osteoarthritis with 23,229 healthy people who rarely or never took NSAIDs. People with osteoarthritis had a 42% higher risk of heart failure and a 17% higher risk of coronary artery disease compared with healthy people. After controlling for a range of factors that contribute to heart disease (including high body mass index, high blood pressure, and diabetes), they concluded that 41% of the increased risk of heart disease related to osteoarthritis was due to the use of NSAIDs.

Although this observational study doesn't prove cause and effect, it's already known that routine NSAID use can increase blood pressure, raise the risk of kidney problems, and cause stomach bleeding. For people with osteoarthritis, the findings underscore the importance of taking the lowest possible dose of an NSAID for the shortest possible time. The study appeared in the August 6 issue of Arthritis and Rheumatology.

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