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Acetaminophen and High Blood Pressure?

Apr 9, 2008
You are probably aware of the side effects and risks associated with taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Let's take a look at ways these controversial painkillers may create more damage than good. US news website ABC recently covered a study published in the American Heart Association (AHA)Journal on high blood pressure. We'll take a peak at the study and then get back to ABC in a moment.

A team from Harvard University (US) analyzed data from the first and second Nurses' Health Studies. Using information from questionnaires, the researchers gathered information on high blood pressure and analgesics (painkillers), use in more than 5,000 women, ages 51-77 in the leading study and ages 34-53 in the subsequent study. Not any of the women had high blood pressure at the beginning of either study. Results showed that aspirin intake had no association with the incident of high blood pressure. But additional analgesics (painkillers) didn't fare as well.

Women in the senior age group who used an average of 400 mg of ibuprofen per day had an 80 percent increased chance of hypertension compared to women who didn't use ibuprofen. Women in the younger group who used 400 mg of ibuprofen per day had a 60 percent increased chance of high blood pressure. Women in either group who took an average of 500 mg or more of acetaminophen everyday were twice as probable to develop high blood pressure compared to women who didn't use the medication.

In the published study, the authors report; "Because acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are habitually used, they may contribute to the high prevalency of high blood pressure in the United States. I've taken studies to task when their designs were clearly flawed or the conclusions plainly biased. And basically that's all ABC did with the BWH study. Or that's how it appears on the surface.

So why did ABC elect this study for a investigation? Well, there could be all sorts of reasons. The possibility that comes to mind most readily is the reality that the network receives loads of dollars in advertising revenues from the makers of acetaminophen and ibuprofen products.

Reporter John McKenzie from ABC stated that, "Many doctors today were unusually critical of this latest research, and they worried about the fear it could trigger." Haven't analgesics (painkillers) been proven to cause gastrointestinal problems along with kidney and liver damage when taken in excess. But fears about vitamin E, which is safe and has been shown to promote heart health? Hey, there's no problem there.

Here are the flaws in the BWH study, according to the doctor duo. Researchers didn't measure the subjects' blood pressure; they relied on subjects to report on any diagnosis of high blood pressure. Researchers didn't count the pills subjects were taking - again they relied on the subjects to report analgesic (painkiller) intake.

There was no follow up to see if the amount or type of analgesics (painkillers) taken at the beginning of the study changed by the end of the study. The study didn't rule out other potential causes of high blood pressure.

These are valid points, although a couple of them are rather weak. For example, if a nurse says she's been diagnosed with high blood pressure, well, she's a nurse! She would know. What Mr. McKenzie doesn't note is that the researchers are well aware that their findings are not the final word on the question of an analgesic (painkiller) and high blood pressure connection.

In an AHA press release about the study, lead author, Dr John Phillip Forman, states that more research is needed to confirm the findings, and adds, "It is important to emphasize that our study is not proof that these drugs will raise blood pressure in all women. Rather, women and their doctors should use caution when using these drugs.
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