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Ibuprofen Might Not Be That Safe After All, According to a New Study

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It’s long been thought that certain over-the-counter and prescription anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen and naproxen, are safer than other pain-relievers. However, a new study found that these drugs actually might not be that great for your kidneys and heart when used long-term.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as Advil and Motrin, are commonly used to relieve joint pain and headaches, and are also used in higher doses for people with chronic pain. A certain type of NSAID — COX-2 inhibitors — were originally found to increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, while also being easier on the stomach, Timereports. As a result, two COX-2 inhibitors were removed from the market, with only celecoxib (or Celebrex) remaining.

Yet, a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that celecoxib doesn’t cause more heart events than ibuprofen and naproxen. In fact, celecoxib may actually lead to fewer kidney problems, according to the study’s lead author Dr. Steven Nissen, of the Cleveland Clinic:

“I would have never guessed these results. The whole world has been saying for a decade now that if you must take an NSAID, you probably ought to take naproxen because it’s the safest. We just don’t see that in these results. In almost every measure, ibuprofen looks worse, naproxen is intermediate and celecoxib is the best.”

The heart risks associated with ibuprofen and naproxen don’t necessarily apply to those who just use them as short-term fixes, according to the study. So at this time, there’s no need to toss your ibuprofen or naproxen if you only use them every once in a while.

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      Mr. Smith, the New Orleans patient who went through desensitization, had progressive kidney disease that slowly scarred his kidneys until, in 2004, they stopped functioning. His sister-in-law, Allison Sutton, donated a kidney to him, and he had a transplant, but after six and a half years, it failed. He went on dialysis, spending four days a week hooked up to dialysis machines for hours. It was keeping him alive, he told his friends, but it was not a life.
      Then a nurse suggested that he ask Johns Hopkins about its desensitization study. “I was like, whatever I could do,” he said. He discovered that he qualified for the study. But he needed a donor.
      One day, his wife, Sheryl Smith, was talking on the phone to a college friend, Angela Watkins, who lives in Augusta, Ga., and mentioned that Mr. Smith was praying for a donor. Mrs. Watkins’s husband, David Watkins, a judge in state court, had been friends with Mr. Smith in college and the two wives, also college friends, had kept in touch over the years.
      Mrs. Watkins told her husband about the conversation, and they asked themselves if they should offer to donate.
      “We talked and researched and prayed,” Judge Watkins said. Finally, he said, they came to a conclusion. “We have a moral obligation to at least see if we would qualify.” And he thought that he should be the one to go first. If he did not qualify, his wife could be tested.
      Mr. Smith warned his old friend that donating was an enormous undertaking. “He said, ‘You can’t grasp what you are doing.’ I heard him but it didn’t register,” Judge Watkins said. “I told him, ‘I have something you need, so what’s the big deal?’ ”
      Of course, it was a big deal. Although Judge Watkins had prepared by getting himself in top physical shape, it still took about six months to recover from the operation.
      That was four years ago, and Mr. Smith’s new kidney is still functioning and he is back to his active life, forever grateful to his friend.
      “Every night,” he says, “during my nightly prayers with my wife, I thank God for bringing David and Allison to me and for giving me the gift of life.
      “But for David giving me this gift, I would still be in that dialysis chair.”
      Correction: March 9, 2016 
      Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misstated the role of Dr. Krista L. Lentine, the medical director of the living donation program at the Saint Louis Center for Transplantation, in the study of kidney transplants. She was not involved.
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