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FDA: Aleve Safer Than Rival Pain Relievers

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- The pain reliever aisle is possibly the most visited aisle in the drugstore -- and maybe the most confusing. There are dozens of choices -- brand names, generics, nonaspirins, anti-inflammatory drugs.

And if you're like Cynthia Golan, you have some in your medicine cabinet for everyday aches and pains.

"If I do get a headache or I do something physical that I start getting aches and pains," Golan said.

One class of painkillers, NSAIDs -- or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs -- has carried the same warnings about how they could increase the risk of cardiovascular problems, such as heart attacks or strokes.

But as CBS 2's Dr. Max Gomez, that might be about to change.

A Food and Drug Administration review posted online Tuesday said naproxen -- the key ingredient in Aleve and dozens of other generic pain pills -- may have a lower risk of heart attack and stroke than rival medications such as ibuprofen, sold as Advil and Motrin. FDA staffers recommend relabeling naproxen to emphasize its safety.

"If you're at risk for heart attack or stroke and you need to find some pain relief, the safest medication to take is naproxen," said Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, a cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital.

Another type of pain reliever is acetaminophen, which includes Tylenol. While that doesn't have heart risks, it can be toxic to the liver.

"We're seeing elevations in liver enzymes and liver failure when people take too much of this medication," Steinbaum said.

Gomez said all pain relievers are probably safe for occasional use. No over-the-counter medication should be taken more than occasionally or for more than a few days without a doctor's advice, he said.

The FDA released its memo ahead of a public meeting next month where outside experts will discuss the new data and whether naproxen should be relabeled. The agency is not required to follow the group's advice, though it often does.

If ultimately implemented, the labeling changes could reshape the multibillion-dollar market for drugs used to treat headaches, muscle pain and arthritis.

The change could make Aleve and other naproxen drugs the first choice for patients with a higher risk for heart problems, according to Ira Loss, a pharmaceutical analyst with Washington Analysis. But he added that all NSAIDs will continue to carry warnings about internal bleeding and ulceration, a serious side effect that is blamed for more than 200,000 hospital visits every year.

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