A New Study Shows Arthritis Medication Is Surprisingly Safe

Published December 8th, 2016 by USA Rx
Fact Checked by
Chris Riley

A New Study Shows Arthritis Medication Is Surprisingly SafeStarting back in the late 90s, the FDA began approving a new class of drugs known as selective COX-2 inhibitors, the first of which was Celebrex. Pharmaceutical companies developed these drugs as an alternative to over-the-counter painkillers (also known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs), producing the same kind of low-level relief without the gastro-intestinal side effects usually found in drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen (better known to the public as Aleve).

However, COX-2 inhibitors ran into some trouble when a study found a solid link between them and cardiovascular issues like heart attacks and strokes. The risk wasn’t particularly high, but it was enough to get Celebrex’s main competitor, Vioxx, pulled from pharmacy shelves.

After that, the FDA called a meeting to determine whether this particular risk was worth the benefit of pain relief, or whether they should pull all the COX-2 inhibitors from the market entirely. In the end, the group noted that the long-term use of other NSAIDs could also lead to this slight increase in the risk of a heart attack, so they decided to add an extra warning to the label and call it a day.

At the same time, the FDA also talked Pfizer, the company that creates Celebrex, into sponsoring a long-term study comparing COX-2 inhibitors to ibuprofen and naproxen. Those results have just come out, and they support the FDA’s decision: 2.3 percent of participants on Celebrex died from cardiovascular causes, as compared to 2.5 percent of those on naproxen and 2.7 percent of those on ibuprofen.

The study wasn’t completely perfect, of course. Of all the drug categories out there, mild painkillers don’t often inspire much in the way long-term retention or loyalty. Still, the study does prove that COX-2 inhibitors are at least as safe as NSAIDs you can buy over the counter. While taking painkillers long-term always comes with some risks, Celebrex and its generic competition, celecoxib, is a very real alternative with fewer consequences for your stomach and intestines.

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