If you are suffering from regular headaches and jaw pain, you might reach for an over-the-counter (OTC) medication to help control your discomfort. Although this might seem like a normal, safe thing to do, the truth is that OTC medications can carry as many risks as prescription medications.
This point was driven home last week when a new study shows that a common class of OTC pain relievers known as NSAIDs can increase your risk of heart attack.
This revelation makes it more important that people consider drug-free treatment alternatives for chronic pain conditions like temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ).
What Are NSAIDs?
NSAID is short for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug. This is a class of drugs that includes many common pain relievers such as:
- Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
- Naproxen (Aleve, Midol)
- Celecoxib (Celebrex)
Their name comes from the fact that they can combat inflammation, which is responsible not only for pain, but also for the swelling and immune response that can cause other effects of an injury. Because these drugs can control swelling, fever, and pain, they are commonly recommended as part of home care for many conditions, including TMJ.
But new understanding of the risks may change our guidelines.
What Is the Risk?
This new study looked at nearly 450,000 individuals involved in previous studies looking at the use of NSAIDs and heart attack risk. Over 61,000 people experienced heart attacks in the studies. Researchers then looked at the relative risk of heart attacks after taking a dose of NSAID. They concluded that any dose of NSAID led to an increased risk of heart attack, one week, one month, and one month after the dose.
Not all NSAIDs had an equal heart attack risk. The highest risk was related to diclofenac, naproxen, and rofecoxib, which were associated with a 99% higher risk of heart attack within a week of dosage. Ibuprofen was associated with a 97% higher risk of heart attack within a week. Celecoxib was associated with a 92% higher risk of heart attack within a week.
Heart attack risk also increased with dosage: people taking 1200 mg doses having the highest risk. For ibuprofen, that’s the equivalent of 6 tablets of the standard OTC formulation.
Rofecoxib was marketed as Vioxx, but is no longer sold in the US. It became banned for the high level of heart attack and other cardiovascular risks associated with it.
Understanding the Results
There are many important things to keep in mind about these results. First, it’s important to understand that this is a relative risk over your typical heart attack risk, which is overall small.
And it’s important to understand that the studies don’t show that the NSAIDs actually cause the heart attack risk, just that they’re associated with the heart attack. This could be because, for example, people take NSAIDs for pains that may be a warning sign of heart attack risk–or even a small heart attack.
Drug-Free Treatment Can Reduce Your Risk
Although we’re not sure about the level of heart attack risk associated with these drugs, we do know that they carry side effects and have potential complications. The more of these drugs you take, the higher your overall risk. Reducing the amount of drugs you take can reduce your risk of drug-related complications.