Acetaminophen, or tylenol as it is often known, is one of the most commonly used drugs in the world. It is typically used for pain relief but can also be found in many cold and cough medications.
Aside from some real concerns about liver damage with overuse or overdosage of the agent, acetaminophen has long been considered a relatively safe choice for the management of minor pain. In fact, because of concerns about using NSAIDs and COX-2 inhibitors (common pain relievers available both over-the-counter and by prescription) and a potential worsening of cardiovascular disease, acetaminophen has been a favored choice of doctors when treating people with known heart disease who also have chronic pain, as with arthritis, for example.
The assumption was that acetaminophen was safe in this setting. Now comes a study suggesting that may not be the case.
Published in the prestigious journal Circulation, the study showed that when people with heart disease were given acetaminophen in a dose of 1,000 mg three times a day (a pretty hefty dose) for 2 weeks their blood pressure increased. The increase may not seem like much, about 3 points for both systolic (upper number) and diastolic (lower number) blood pressure, but even that small of a rise in blood pressure if consistent can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.
The study has some significant limitations so we still don't know if acetaminophen in the setting of heart disease is really a problem or not. In the near future the study will likely be repeated and we'll have a much better idea.
In the meantime, if you have been diagnosed to have heart disease or high blood pressure please speak with your doctor before taking acetaminophen / tylenol for pain. Remember that the agent is often found in cold and cough preparations, too.
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