Do Pain Relievers Raise Blood Pressure?
New Study Shows No Increase in Men; Experts Question Findings
Sept. 13, 2005 -- Frequent use of over-the-counter pain relievers has been linked to high blood pressure in women. But new research fails to show the same association in men.
Findings show that men who regularly took the pain relievers were no more likely than those who didn't to have persistent high blood pressure, also known as hypertension.
So do men and women really have different risks? Probably not, says cardiologist and study researcher Michael Gaziano, MD, of Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital and the VA Boston Health System.
Instead, the conflicting findings suggest that more study is needed to pin down the heart risks associated with long-term use of over-the-counter pain relievers.
"I don't think anybody should be worried about using these drugs for short periods," he tells WebMD.
Long-Term Risks Unknown
High blood pressure is a leading cause of stroke, heart attacks, heart failure, and kidney disease. Being overweight is the major risk factor for hypertension. Other recognized risks include smoking and getting little exercise.
Popular over-the-counter pain relievers include aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, and Nuprin) and naproxen (Aleve).
It is clear that many of these painkillers can raise blood pressure while they are in the system, but Gaziano says that does not present a health risk for most people.
"Many things raise your blood pressure in the short term, including walking up the stairs," he says.
But many people take the pain relievers every day for chronic conditions like arthritis. And the heart risks associated with their frequent, long-term use are not well understood.
Side Effects of Pain Relievers
The widely publicized troubles of the prescription pain reliever Vioxx led to warnings being placed on all prescription anti-inflammatory pain relievers about the potential risks of heart disease and stroke.
Expanded information was also provided on anti-inflammatory over-the-counter drugs. While short-term, low-dose use has not been linked to heart attack and stroke, stronger reminders are now included on the label about limiting the dose and duration of treatment.
It's recommended that patients not use over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs for more than 10 days without seeing their doctor.
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is not an anti-inflammatory drug and has not been linked to heart disease and stroke. However, acetaminophen, like the anti-inflammatory drugs, has been linked to high blood pressure, according to the researchers.