Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and the School of Public Health (SPH) have shown that regular, frequent consumption of painkillers containing acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen, increased the risk of hypertension in a large group of women studied.
The findings, published in the Oct. 28 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, showed that, out of a group of 80,000 women surveyed as part of the landmark BWH Nurse’s Health Study II, those who regularly took acetaminophen or NSAIDs – and had no previous history of high blood pressure – had a significantly elevated risk of becoming hypertensive. For example, women who took NSAIDs for 22 or more days per month increased their risk by 86 percent. Those who used acetaminophen as regularly were twice as likely to develop high blood pressure.
“We decided to study these drugs because they are so widely used and could affect blood pressure,” said Gary Curhan of BWH. “Up until now, however, little has been done to assess their long-term impacts on blood pressure, particularly when they are taken with any kind of frequency.”
Curhan said that women typically take acetaminophen and ibuprofen more often than men. The women studied were all between the ages of 31 and 50.
Even infrequent use of the painkillers increased the chances of hypertension. Women who took NSAIDs, like ibuprofen, one to four days per month were 14 percent more likely to have high blood pressure than a woman who did not take the drugs. A woman taking the same regimen of acetaminophen experienced a 19 percent risk increase.
“We are not saying that people should abandon using these drugs,” said Curhan. “We are simply making people aware that there are potential health risks to consider whenever a drug is taken frequently.”
Whether or not to regularly take acetaminophen or NSAIDs should ultimately be discussed with a person’s primary care physician, said Curhan.
Aspirin was not found to be associated with hypertension risk in this study.
Although not proven by this research, it is thought that these drugs may increase blood pressure by inhibiting production of prostaglandins, a hormonelike body chemical that widens blood vessels for improved blood flow, Curhan said.
“Certainly, further research needs to be done in this area,” added Curhan. “Because these drugs are easily available over-the-counter, increasing our knowledge around their effects is clearly in everyone’s best interests.”