Popular pain pills linked to high blood pressure in young women

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The commonly used pain medication acetaminophen (marketed as a non-aspirin pain reliever) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), are associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure in younger women, according to a recent article in the Archives of Internal Medicine, one of the Journal of the American Medical Association archives journals.

According to background information in the article, the use of analgesics, or pain-reducing drugs, is common. Previous studies have suggested that the use of NSAIDs causes a small increase in blood pressure and increases the risk of hypertension, whereas aspirin and acetaminophen use do not. However, most of these studies have focused on patients taking antihypertensive medications. The effects of the long-term use of analgesics have not been studied thoroughly. In addition, aspirin, acetaminophen, and some NSAIDs are available as over-the-counter products.

Gary C. Curhan, M.D., ScD of Boston's Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health, and colleagues, examined the association between frequency of use of three classes of commonly used analgesics and the risk of hypertension among women aged 31 to 50 participating in the Nurses' Health Study II.

Beginning in 1989, a large group of nurses were followed with surveys mailed every other year to collect data on lifestyle practices and other health issues. Researchers identified 80,020 women with no previous history of hypertension. In 1995, these women were mailed questionnaires asking about frequency of analgesic use (in days per month) for aspirin, NSAIDs, and acetaminophen.

Findings showed that on at least one day per month, more than half (51.2%) of the group used aspirin, and more than three-quarters used NSAIDs (76.7%) or acetaminophen (72.5% ). Of the participants who received the analgesics questionnaire, 1,650 were diagnosed with hypertension as reported on the 1997 Nurses' Health Study II biennial survey.

After adjusting for differences in age, the use of all three classes of analgesics were associated with an increased risk of hypertension. When compared with those who reported no use of analgesics, those who reported using NSAIDs 22 days per month or more had an 86% increase in the risk of developing hypertension, and those taking acetaminophen 22 days per month or more had twice the risk of developing hypertension.

The researchers concluded: "The use of NSAIDs and the use of acetaminophen were each strongly associated with risk of developing hypertension in women, and the risks increased with increasing frequency of use."

SOURCE: Archives of Internal Medicine, Oct. 28, 2002.

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