Acetaminophen (Tylenol, generic) has long been promoted as a safer alternative to aspirin or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil, generic) for people with cardiovascular disease (CVD) who need pain relief. A small but important Swiss trial warns that this may not be correct, reports the February issue of the Harvard Heart Letter. These new results do not mean a person should ditch acetaminophen if it helps them, but they do suggest caution should be exercised, as with every medication.
In the trial, the Swiss researchers asked that the participating 33 men and women with coronary artery disease—including angina, previous bypass surgery or angioplasty, or a diagnosis of cholesterol-clogged arteries—to take either 1,000 mg of acetaminophen or a placebo 3 times a day for 2 weeks. The amount of acetaminophen used in the study is a standard daily dose for pain. Average blood pressure rose when the participants took acetaminophen, but stayed steady when they took the placebo. Acetaminophen is easier on the stomach than aspirin and other NSAIDs. Because it is so widely used and perceived as safe, people tend to take it without thinking. But it has side effects, too. In fact, acetaminophen is a leading cause of liver failure and transplantation in the United States. If a person has some form of CVD, it makes sense to take acetaminophen rather than an NSAID for a fever, headache, pulled muscle, or other occasional problem. But if an individual needs relief every day for pain from osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, acetaminophen may not be the best option—it does not work that well against inflammatory pain, and it can elevate blood pressure.
(Source: Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Heart Letter, February 2011)