The deadly dark side of America’s most trusted drugs

I know I’ve warned you about the dangers of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) pain relievers before. But this past weekend, I saw first-hand just how widespread NSAID use still is. And how nonchalantly people pop these pills at the first twinge of pain — whether it’s a headache, sore back, or throbbing knees.

I guess people assume that if they can still get it in any Duane Reade (or if you’re not a New Yorker, any Walgreens, Target, WalMart, etc.), then it must be OK.


Sorry to shout. But I can’t help it. NSAIDs are some of the most insidious drugs on the market. Primarily because people put so much trust in them.

Let me put it this way…

Say your car was stolen and you go to the police to report it. They nab the thief and you get your car back. But the next day, they release him back onto the street. And then, a few weeks later, you get a bill in the mail charging you for the time the car thief spent in jail.

I think it’s safe to say you’d be outraged. You trust the police to help you when you’re most vulnerable. Imagine they did a shoddy job — and then charged you for it.

Well, that’s exactly how NSAIDs work. Only worse.

The relief they offer is short-lived — at best. In fact, according to a study published last summer in the prestigious medical journal Lancet, participants taking a placebo actually recovered from back pain faster than those taking acetaminophen. (Of course, the best-known brand name of acetaminophen is Tylenol. You know, the drug “hospitals use most.”)

But temporary, Band-Aid relief is actually the least of my concerns when it comes to NSAIDs. As I said above, these drugs carry some serious risks.

What sorts of risks, you might ask? Where do I even begin?

How about with hearing loss. A 2012 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology revealed that women who take ibuprofen or acetaminophen on a daily basis have a 25 percent higher risk of hearing loss than those who don’t take these drugs.

Then there’s asthma. In one 2010 study involving 322,959 adolescents in 50 countries, kids who had recently been given acetaminophen were 1.5 times more likely to have asthma. Recent acetaminophen use was also associated with a greater risk of skin diseases such as eczema.

You’ve also got a four-fold increased risk of ulcers.

And don’t forget they’re the leading cause of chronic liver disease and liver failure in the U.S.

Plus, as I told you earlier this year, NSAIDs are such a trainwreck for your heart, even the FDA is finally admitting it. Not only do they raise the risk of atrial fibrillation by as much as 84 percent, but they also increase your chances of having a heart attack or stroke by more than a third.

And it doesn’t take long for these risks to set in. According to the warning labels on the pill bottles, “The risk of heart attack or stroke can occur as early as the first weeks of using an NSAID.”

These are just some of the more common risks associated with NSAIDs. The ones doctors know about and see most often. But NSAIDs cause other, less obvious changes in the body too. And doctors don’t always put two and two together right away…which can lead to some truly terrifying problems. More on that next time.


“Analgesic Use and the Risk of Hearing Loss in Women,” Am J Epidemiol 2012; 176 (6): 544-554

“Acetaminophen use and risk of asthma, rhinoconjunctivitis, and eczema in adolescents: International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood Phase Three.” Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2011; 183(2): 171-178

“Primer: managing NSAID-induced ulcer complications–balancing gastrointestinal and cardiovascular risks”Nature Clinical Practice Gastroenterology & Hepatology (2006) 3, 563-573

“Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and the risk of atrial fibrillation: a population-based follow-up study.” BMJ Open. 2014 Apr 8;4(4):e004059.

“Vascular and upper gastrointestinal effects of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs: meta-analyses of individual participant data from randomized trials,” The Lancet 2013; 382: 769-779