Some Popular Pain Pills Increase Heart Deaths

"A take-home message for patients is to remember that despite the feel-good drug commercials that we're all exposed to daily, all medications that work have risks, including those sold over the counter," he said.

Dr. Gregg Fonarow, a UCLA professor of cardiology and director of the Ahmanson-UCLA Cardiomyopathy Center, said patients who are taking any over-the-counter meds regularly should talk with their doctor.

"Individuals who every now and then take a few doses of NSAIDs -- they do not need to be concerned about this," said Fonarow. "But it's important for individuals to follow current guidelines, which includes only using medicine when indicated, trying to use the lowest dose and for the shortest duration possible."

But other heart specialists did not believe that the study was definitive enough to change which pain medications are prescribed and when.

"These kinds of studies have been out and around. They're observational, they're not randomized trials," said Dr. Steven E. Nissen, vice chairman of cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Cleveland.

Nissen is currently conducting a randomized trial on the very topic to pinpoint how much NSAIDs influence cardiac risks. He expects that eventually research will define which drugs are risky and when to avoid them.

"But I don't think people can make a decision on what drug to take on the basis of this study," he said.

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