By Alice Park
Over-the-counter and prescription drugs that control inflammation, like Advil, Aleve and Motrin, are among the most popular drugs people take. Without a prescription, they can relieve short-term pain from backaches and headaches, and at higher doses can reduce the inflammation behind chronic conditions like osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. But recent studies have questioned their safety, enough so that in 2015, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) strengthened warnings on the drugs’ labels about their risk of heart attack and stroke.
But most concerning were the heart risks linked to a new class of these so-called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), the COX-2 inhibitors. These drugs were supposed to be kinder to the stomach and intestines, since NSAIDS typically activated chemicals that compromised the protective lining of these organs, leading to bleeding and pain. It turned out that the benefit for the intestines, however, came at a price to the heart. Two of the COX-2 inhibitors were removed from the market because studies showed they were linked to higher risk of heart attack and stroke.
That left one—celecoxib, or Celebrex—on the market, but the heart concerns led the FDA to require its maker, Pfizer, to pay for additional studies to ensure that celecoxib did not put people at increased risk of heart trouble. Now the results of the study show that contrary to what doctors and regulators expected, celecoxib does not lead to any higher rates of heart events than ibuprofen or naproxen. In fact, celecoxib may even cause fewer kidney problems than the other two NSAIDs.