PhotoNon-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, are effective pain relievers. They include a lot of over the counter drugs that are probably in your medicine chest – products like aspirin, Advil, Aleve, Motrin, and Nuprin.

But if you are at risk for heart disease, your physician may have advised you not to take these drugs on a regular basis. Research has found evidence these drugs can increase cardiovascular risks.

Now, University of California, Davis scientists have said they have learned why that happens.

They found these drugs can reduce cardiac cells' ability to produce energy. They can also cause the production of a compound that puts stress on heart cells. That stress has been associated with heart disease.

Attacks heart cells

NSAIDs have also been shown to inhibit production of proteasome, which controls harmful proteins. Uncontrolled, these proteins can build up and eventually kill off cardiac cells.

“We knew these non-steroidal anti-inflammatories had negative side effects for heart disease and stroke risk, “ said corresponding author Aldrin Gomes, a UC Davis associate professor of Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior. “But now we have an idea of some of the mechanisms behind it.”

To reach their conclusions, the California scientists compared naproxen, considered the safest available NSAID and available over the counter, with the more powerful prescription drug meclofenamate sodium.

Meclofenamate sodium, they found, was more likely to have negative heart impact than naproxen. In fact, naproxen did not have any effect on proteasome function or cause heart cells to die.

Stroke risk

But naproxen did not receive a clean bill of health. The researchers found the over the counter NSAID impaired mitochondrial function and was more likely to harm cardiac cells. It was also associated with increased stroke risk.

But if you use the products only occasionally, not daily for chronic pain, the risk appears to be less.

“We were surprised to see that many of the NSAIDs we tested were causing the cardiac cell to die when used for prolonged periods,” said Gomes. “Some people are taking these drugs too often, and this is a problem. These drugs are abused.”

The researchers also suggest that getting a dose of vitamin C, either through food or supplement before taking an NSAID, might work to prevent cell damage.

If you have high blood pressure, or have been found to be at risk of heart disease, it is a good idea to discuss NSAIDs with your health care provider before taking one.

In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last year strengthened its NSAID warning, saying even people in good health need to be careful with these drugs. The concern is that NSAIDs are often present in a wide range of drugs. People taking multiple medications are in danger of getting too much.

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