By Dr. Dave Hnida

(CBS4) – A new study gives a cleaner bill of health to the anti-arthritis pill Celebrex, a drug that’s supposed to be easier on your stomach than other pain medications. Yet with it a comes with a concern that it might raise your risk of heart attack or stroke. This has been a concern since a similar medication, Vioxx, was taken off the market years ago because of heart concerns.

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Researchers at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association say their report shows that the medication does not raise the risk, and, in fact, suggests other commonly used pain relievers such as ibuprofen and naproxen may be riskier.

Why? They found that people who use prescription strength doses of ibuprofen or naproxen had a higher rate of anemia from stomach bleeding than Celebrex; and that there was also a higher rate of kidney problems due to high blood pressure from ibuprofen. Most importantly, the risk of heart attack or stroke from Celebrex was not higher when compared to the other two pain relievers.

Celebrex (credit: CBS)

Celebrex (credit: CBS)

However, some experts had some problems with this 10 year study, mainly because of the number of people actually studied for the full 10 years.

The research began with more than 24,000 people. Of that number, more than 16,500 dropped out of the study before it was over; another 6,600 were lost to follow-up, meaning they disappeared and couldn’t be found.

So the actual number of people fully studied was a lot lower than intended. Yet some cardiologists still say even with the smaller number, it does relieve a lot of worry than Celebrex is bad for your ticker.

So what is the bottom line?

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First, this research is not intended for people who pop an occasional ibuprofen or naproxen for a headache — it is for prescription strength dosages taken every day for months or years on end.

(You also need to know that we warn people that over-the-counter does not necessarily mean safer, so be cautious with any dose of any medication, no matter where you get it.)

Additionally, the information that ibuprofen and naproxen are rough on the stomach or kidneys, and should really be avoided if you have high blood pressure, is not new. And even if Celebrex is safer than we thought on your heart, it doesn’t make it side effect free.

Bottom lines, with these or any medications, use the lowest dose for the shortest period of time. And if you do take something regularly, be sure to talk with your doc, make sure you are aware of possible side effects, and ask about how to monitor the safety of that medication, say with regular blood testing.

And by all means, look at other non-medication ways to control your arthritis or chronic pain.

Dr. Dave Hnida is CBS4’s Medical Editor. He blogs about the latest studies and trends in the health world. Read his latest blog entries, check out his bio or follow him on Twitter @drdavehnida

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