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Can over-the-counter drugs increase the risk for heart attack?

By Gordon Cohen MD PhD FACS, Chief Medical Officer at PRO Sports Club

SPONSORED — Like most people, when you have back pain, menstrual cramps or a common headache, your first line of defense is often an over-the-counter drug like Advil or Motrin which contains the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, ibuprofen. However, a new study recently published in The British Medical Journal showed people who used an anti-inflammatory drug had a higher risk of heart attack (an average of 20 to 50 percent) while taking the drugs, compared with those not taking the drugs.

What does this mean for anyone who regularly takes ibuprofen like Advil or Motrin? Like many, you might be confused or concerned by these conclusions, however it’s important to remember that this was an observational study where the authors went through medical literature and identify studies where they showed a risk of heart attack to taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. But there are so many risk factors and other possibilities that aren’t accounted for. For example, why is somebody taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug? Is it because they’re having pain? Pain itself can increase your heart rate, increase your blood pressure and make you anxious. These are all by themselves risk factors for having a heart attack if you’re already in an at-risk group. So, when you’re taking the drug, is it the drug that’s actually causing the problem or were you already having the problem and you’re taking the drug to relieve the symptoms? Questions like these can’t be accounted for in a study like this one.

In general, the increase in risk is actually relatively small. Even though the numbers sound scary at 20 to 50% increase, most people fall into a low-risk group for having a heart attack. And if you’re in a low-risk group you can safely take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug. If you’re in a higher-risk group, the best thing to do, if you have any doubt, is to consult with your physician and discuss the risks, the benefits and whether there is some other alternative that could work for you.

Adopting a healthier lifestyle can also reduce your risk for a heart attack and improve your overall health. And it’s beneficial to have a team working with you to give you all the tools you need for success. At PRO Sports Club, the 20/20 Lifestyles program is built on extensive clinical expertise that blends together education, nutrition, exercise, lifestyle coaching, and medical supervision. This unique medically-based program uses sound science to help you lose weight, keep it off, and get your health back in balance.

For more information on 20/20 Lifestyles or other programs at PRO Sports Club, visit or 20/20

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