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The results of a just released new study provide some reassurance to arthritis sufferers who want pain relief but have been worried about side effects. It finds that Celebrex, a drug similar to ones withdrawn 12 years ago for safety reasons, is no riskier for the heart than some other prescription pain pills that are much tougher on the stomach.

It is estimated that as many as 52 million Americans with arthritis may benefit from long-term pain medicines often used at higher doses than over-the-counter ones. Some of these drugs cause side effects to the stomach and kidneys. Some researchers have suggested that Celebrex, an effective drug for relieving pain may have greater risks than benefits.

In order to address these concerns the government required its maker, Pfizer, to do a clinical study to better understand its risks. The clinical study tested daily use of Celebrex versus prescription-strength ibuprofen or naproxen in 24,000 arthritis patients with heart disease or at risk factor for disease.

After more than two years in the study, serious stomach problems were more common with ibuprofen and naproxen. Kidney problems were more common with ibuprofen.  Overall, about 2 percent of study participants suffered a heart attack, stroke, heart-related death or other heart problem regardless of what drug they were taking, suggesting that Celebrex did not increase the risk.

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This is great news for patients suffering from arthritis because the highly effective Celebrex appears to be as safe as the other alternatives. The results of this study were discussed Sunday at an American Heart Association conference and published by the New England Journal of Medicine.

Reference: Husni S, Wolski K, Wisniewski L et al. The cardiovascular safety of celecoxib versus ibuprofen or naproxen in 24,081 patients with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. Presented at the American College of Rheumatology, Abstract 1L. Can be retrieved from The Cardiovascular Safety of Celecoxib Versus Ibuprofen or Naproxen in 24,081 Patients with Osteoarthritis or Rheumatoid Arthritis