Naproxen And Ibuprofen Problems Seen At High Doses In Study : Shots - Health News A large study alleviates concerns that Celebrex boosts the risk for heart attacks and strokes as much as Vioxx. But the findings raise some concerns about prescription doses of ibuprofen and naproxen.

Safety Of Painkiller Celebrex Affirmed In New Study

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/501033431/501975727" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Today In Your Health - trying to prevent peanut allergies. We'll get to that in a moment. But first, some news this morning about the safety of prescription painkilling drugs that are used by millions of people. NPR health correspondent Rob Stein joins us with the details. Hey, Rob.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Dave

GREENE: So what is this new research, and how worried should we be?

STEIN: So we're talking about three drugs here, and they were examined as part of a large study that was released late yesterday. Now, the focus of the study was a drug known as celecoxib. Now, some people might recognize the brand name that was originally used to sell this drug - Celebrex.

GREENE: Painkiller, right?

STEIN: It's a painkiller. It's a prescription painkiller. And people have been worried about this drug for more than a decade. And the reason is it's very similar to another drug known as Vioxx.

GREENE: Which made a lot of news.

STEIN: Yeah. That was a huge, blockbuster painkiller that came in the market. And then it was pulled off the market because doctors discovered it could sharply increase the risk for heart attacks and strokes. So ever since then, doctors have been worried about Celebrex. Is it another Vioxx or not? So the FDA let the drug stay on the market but only with the condition that researchers study it to determine how safe it might be.

GREENE: OK, so the FDA wanted Celebrex to be studied. Is that the news that we got yesterday - the study's done?

STEIN: Yeah, absolutely. They finally have the results. And this study involved more than 24,000 arthritis patients and took more than a decade to complete.

GREENE: Wow.

STEIN: One-third of the patients took Celebrex every day for at least more than a year. And the researchers compared them to patients who were either taking prescription doses of ibuprofen - you know, people might recognize that as Advil or Motrin - or prescription doses of another drug known as naproxen, which people might recognize as Aleve.

GREENE: Over the counter, yeah.

STEIN: Right. And when they took a look at it after analyzing all the data, they realized that, no, Celebrex is no Vioxx. It doesn't have the sharply increased risk for heart attacks and strokes that Vioxx does. Now, that doesn't mean it's completely safe. All of these drugs do have some risk for increasing the chances of having a heart attack and stroke. It just looks like Celebrex is no worse than these other drugs.

GREENE: OK, so I ask you how worried we should be. It sounds like we shouldn't be that worried, that Celebrex is safe. Is that what they're saying?

STEIN: Well, they're saying it's not as dangerous as we feared it might be. And all these drugs do carry some risks. And when they look further at some of the other side effects that are associated with these drugs, they continue to find some differences. For example, they found that Celebrex was less likely to cause complications to the stomach, like bleeding or ulcers in the digestive system that - compared to ibuprofen or compared to naproxen.

And they also found that ibuprofen was more likely to cause kidney problems that could become kind of serious in some cases, like, even kidney failure or the need for kidney dialysis. And there was also a hint - and I really have to emphasize a hint - that naproxen and ibuprofen may be a little bit more likely to cause heart problems than Celebrex and even a slighter hint that Celebrex may be less likely to cause overall death compared to naproxen.

Now, it's really important to note that these were just really hints, and they weren't statistically significant or were only borderline statistically significant. So they're really just sort of food for thought that researchers follow up to see whether or not they're real or not.

GREENE: So, Rob, I mean, the take-home here, it's sounding like, is if you're taking any of these painkillers, just some questions out there. Talk to your doctor. Be careful.

STEIN: Absolutely, talk to your doctor. And it's important to note that this study was not perfect. They did have some flaws. There were some questions about the low dose of Celebrex that was used, and a lot of patients dropped out, which always raises questions about the reliability. But the take-home message - advice I'm hearing from experts is, if you have to take these drugs, take them for the shortest period of time at the lowest dose, and talk to your doctor first to try and decide which drug to take.

GREENE: And we're talking about all of them here - the naproxen, the ibuprofen and the Celebrex.

STEIN: All of them. All of them have some risks.

GREENE: OK. That's NPR health correspondent Rob Stein. Rob, thanks.

STEIN: Sure. Nice to be here.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.