For years now, I’ve been telling my readers and patients to avoid acetaminophen—especially the extra-strength variety—because of the potential for liver problems. I’ve also said to avoid NSAIDs because of the potential for gastrointestinal bleeding, liver damage, and kidney dysfunction.
My advice is clearly supported by a report from the Harvard School of Medicine’s ongoing Nurses' Health Study that suggests that the use of painkillers can make it difficult for women to control high blood pressure.
The report, published in the September 2005 issue of Hypertension, concluded that women are at increased risk for high blood pressure if they take daily doses of non-aspirin painkillers—such as extra-strength acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin).
This observation is especially troubling for pain-ridden patients looking for alternatives after learning a few years ago that prescription NSAID painkillers (such as Vioxx) are associated with higher risk for cardiovascular problems.
The Harvard study involved 5,123 women age 34 to 77, none of whom had high blood pressure at the onset. Here are the results:
- For women not taking painkillers, the risk of developing high blood pressure levels was about 1 to 3 percent a year.
- Women who were taking an average daily dose of more than 500 mg of acetaminophen (one extra-strength tablet) had a 93 to 99 percent increased risk of developing high blood pressure (and, most likely, a more difficult time maintaining healthy blood pressure) within three years, compared to women taking less than 500 mg.
- Women who were taking more than 400 mg a day of over-the-counter NSAIDS (the equivalent of two ibuprofen) had a 60 to 78 percent increased risk of developing high blood pressure levels, compared to women taking less than 400 mg.
- The widespread use of acetaminophen and over-the-counter NSAIDs may contribute to the high prevalence of chronic hypertension in the United States.
Please take this information to heart. If you take painkillers regularly, please inform your doctor. He or she may have some safer recommendations. Here are a few of mine:
- White willow bark (180 mg twice a day); or
- Low-dose aspirin (325–650 mg a day as tolerated, but discontinue if you experience abdominal discomfort); or
- SAM-e (200–400 mg, once or twice a day as needed).
Remember, there are always safer alternatives to “the business-as-usual” drugs we’re being marketed in the media.
For more information on circumventing cardiovascular problems, visit www.drsinatra.com.