Painkiller Risk: High Blood Pressure
Study Shows Pain Drugs in Your Medicine Cabinet Carry Risk of High Blood Pressure
Feb. 26, 2007 – The most widely used medicines in the world --
over-the-counter pain drugs -- raise a person's risk of high blood
It's true for men as well as for women, suggest new findings from Gary C.
Curhan, MD, ScD, and colleagues at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard
Medical School, Boston.
The drugs in question include:
- NSAIDs such as ibuprofen (brand names include Advil and Motrin) and
naproxen (brand names include Aleve and Naprosyn)
- Acetaminophen (brand names include Tylenol)
"Even though these medications can be bought without a prescription, you
have to think twice before taking them," Curhan tells WebMD.
Curhan's team studied more than 16,000 male health professionals who did not
already have high blood pressure. Their average age was 65.
Four years after entering the study, nearly 2,000 of the men had developed
high blood pressure. High blood pressure -- called "the silent killer"
by the American Heart Association -- can lead to stroke, heart attack, heart
failure, or kidney failure.
More Blood Pressure Risk With Daily Painkillers
The study found that, compared with men who did not use pain relievers, the
risk of high blood pressure:
- Went up 38% in men who took NSAIDs six or seven days a week.
- Went up 34% in men who took acetaminophen six or seven days a week.
- Went up 26% in men who took aspirin six or seven days a week.
That doesn't sound like a lot. But since the drugs are so widely used, the
impact is huge. Curhan estimates that a 65-year-old man has a 3% annual risk of
high blood pressure. With daily painkiller use, that risk becomes 4% a
That 1% difference seems small, but it multiplies over time. Over just four
years, a man's 12% risk of high blood pressure becomes 16%.
The findings aren't a total surprise, says Steven Nissen, MD, chairman of
the Cleveland Clinic's department of cardiovascular medicine and president of
the American College of Cardiology.
"There has been a suspicion that all of these analgesics -- even a
so-called safe analgesic like acetaminophen -- can raise blood pressure,"
Nissen tells WebMD.
He notes that the design of the study does not definitively prove that these
drugs raise the risk of high blood pressure. Only a full-scale clinical trial
can do that. But Nissen says it's "probably true" that acetaminophen
and other common painkillers raise blood pressure.
'Over-the-Counter' Doesn't Mean 'Safe'
Nissen warns that just because you can buy a drug without a prescription
doesn't mean it's safe.
"Some of the most risky medications out there you can buy over the
counter," he says.
For some people, the drugs' risks outweigh their benefits. For others, the
benefits still far outweigh the risks.
"This doesn't mean you should never take these drugs," Curhan says.
"But if you are taking them long term, it is important to talk to your
health care provider to see if there are alternative ways of preventing your
Curhan and colleagues report their findings in the Feb. 26 issue of
Archives of Internal Medicine.