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Health October 2014

Aid for Age

Consider Saying ‘Nay’ to NSAIDs

By Tait Trussell

Although these drugs – such as Aleve and Motrin – can help ease pain, they carry with them the possibility of significant problems. This, even though nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are a regular part of life for many elderly.

Your eyes – and many other body parts – could be in danger. Here’s why.

Most seniors take anti-inflammatory over-the-counter medications, such as Aleve, Advil and Motrin routinely for aches and pains, such as arthritis. These medications, along with aspirin, are usually classified together as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Although these drugs – such as Aleve and Motrin – can help ease pain, they carry with them the possibility of significant problems. This, even though nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are a regular part of life for many elderly.

Most seniors are not aware that blue, green, or hazel-colored eyes – which more than half the population has – can make you more vulnerable to ultra-violet exposure, warns the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).

The AAO commissioned the Harris Poll to conduct a national poll which found that Americans are unaware that taking these drugs can make them more vulnerable to UV exposure. UV exposure is a contributor to eye diseases, ranging from cataracts to cancer. Ophthalmologists recommend that everyone — especially those with increased sensitivity — wear 100 percent UV-safe sunglasses.

The issue is whether the general public really understands the risks of these medications. NSAIDs have been sold over the counter for several years so access is certainly not a problem. Used occasionally, NSAIDs can provide relief of pain such as headaches, injuries or arthritis. For a large percentage of the millions of Americans who take these drugs, NSAIDs are an intricate part of a daily regimen but we  become more prone to side effects from these medications the longer we use them and combine them with other medications. And aging presents further risk of side effects.

The primary difference between NSAIDs and acetaminophen (Actamin, Pandadol, Tylenol) lies in the way each relieves pain. Acetaminophen works primarily in the brain to block pain messages and seems to influence the parts of the brain that help reduce fever. That means it can help relieve headaches and minor pains, but it's not as effective against pain associated with inflammation.

NSAIDs are related to several serious problems. Patients with a history of kidney disease have to be very careful about using NSAIDs, possibly avoiding them completely. Congestive heart failure is one of the most common reasons why people over the age of 65 are admitted to the hospital. NSAID use is known to pose risk for congestive heart failure and increased chances for hospital admission. This is a concern since someone could easily take an ibuprofen for a bad headache without realizing that it could seriously upset their fluid balance. NSAIDS can increase the risks associated with blood pressure, too.

The American Heart Association has urged physicians to look for an Aleve alternative or a Motrin substitute. While they have been associated in various scientific studies with a dramatic elevation in cardiac sudden death risk, now a new study shows a link to atrial fibrillation.

Complications from increased blood pressure and kidney problems are particularly pronounced in the elderly. Heart problems caused by a special class of these medications called COX-2 inhibitors (Vioxx, Bextra) were so significant that these medications were taken off the market.

NSAIDs are credited with causing 76,000 hospital admissions and over 7,600 deaths a year. They are not the only options for those trying to ease chronic pain.

NSAIDs can be compounded into creams that can be applied topically. These creams have been found to be effective for chronic pain and appear to bypass much of the high side-effect rates seen with the pills taken orally. Topical NSAIDs can still cause some of the problems seen in patients who have had serious problems with the oral NSAIDS.

There are also many natural treatments to help with pain and inflammation, such as ice packs, which I use on my knees. Turmeric, bromelain, essential fatty acids, glucosamine, the drug MSM and boswellia (the herb also known as frankincense which has been used for thousands of years) are some of the many treatments available. Many nutritional treatments like fish oils and turmeric (an old Indian spice with a powerful medicinal compound called curcumin) not only help pain but can improve overall health in many areas of the body, according to some health specialists.


Tait Trussell is an old guy and fourth-generation professional journalist who writes extensively about aging issues among a myriad of diverse topics.

Meet Tait