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Will Tylenol Help Prevent a Heart Attack?

Painkillers have been used in all sorts of situations, including treating the chest pain caused by a heart attack, and Tylenol is one of the most popular options in the US. But research has shown that Tylenol, also known as acetaminophen, can actually increase the risk of a heart attack.

Unfortunately, the truth is that Tylenol and NSAIDs (a class of painkiller), raises the risk of a heart attack, and that’s a big problem in a country with a heart disease epidemic.

“This increase in risk affects people who already have heart disease and those who don’t. However, the risk is greater in those who have heart disease,” says Rekha Mankad, M.D.

This means that people at risk of heart disease or who have had a heart attack should not only avoid Tylenol, but also ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), and Celebrex too.

Will Tylenol Stop Heart Attack Pain?

So is it safe to take Tylenol during a heart attack? It should be avoided if alternatives are available.

During a heart attack, you will likely feel pain (though not always – familiarize yourself with symptoms here) and may wish to reach for Tylenol or acetaminophen.

While taking Tylenol may reduce the pain of a heart attack, due to its harmful cardiovascular effects, you should not take it. Either take an aspirin or another non-NSAID painkiller that you have on hand, or nothing at all.

Your first move if you’re having a heart attack should be to call 911 and get an ambulance coming anyway, so hopefully if you don’t have any alternative painkillers, it won’t be a long wait until responders arrive and can begin treating you.

If you feel you really do need to take Tylenol, take the smallest dose for as short a time as possible in order to minimize risk.

a woman taking Tylenol during a heart attack

Why No Tylenol After Heart Attack?

How does Tylenol raise heart attack risk? Well, in your blood, there are substances of varying levels which can make developing a clot more likely. Taking Tylenol increases these substances and thus raises the risk of a clot. If you get a clot, it can trigger a heart attack by blocking narrow arteries, stopping blood flow.

There’s another reason why Tylenol shouldn’t be taken after a heart attack, and that’s because it causes the body to retain more fluid and sodium by affecting the kidneys’ blood flow. This in turn raises blood pressure, making atrial fibrillation (an abnormal rapid quivering motion in the heart’s upper chambers) more likely.

That said, it should be noted that out of the NSAIDs with harmful effects, Tylenol is actually the best choice. You still need to be careful with it, but if you really need pain relief during or after a heart attack and your only options are Tylenol versus Advil, Motrin, Aleve, Naprosyn, etc, you should choose Tylenol.

Should you take Aspirin instead of Tylenol for a heart attack?

Aspirin is also an NSAID painkiller, but for some reason it does not have the same harmful cardiac effects as Tylenol and the others. Some people even take aspirin daily as a preventative measure.

In fact, the American Heart Association recommends aspirin as a pain management option because it thins the blood. However, be aware that it can cause stomach discomfort and even stomach ulcers.

So if you’re wondering whether Tylenol is as good as aspirin for a heart attack, the answer is clear: Tylenol is not just ‘not as good’, it’s actually harmful and should be avoided, while aspirin is a safe painkiller option for people at cardiovascular risk.

What Can Cardiovascular Disease Patients Take instead of Tylenol?

Alternative options which behave similarly to aspirin and are thus not harmful like Tylenol for heart attack sufferers would be Salsalate (Disalcid) or choline magnesium trisalicylate (Trilisate). Be aware that they’re not as strongly anti-inflammatory (which is the kind of pain that heart attacks cause and thus what you want to target) as aspirin.

Non-drug methods you could try to reduce pain are heating pads or ice. Even if you can’t solely rely on them, these kinds of methods might allow you to take a lower painkiller dose when used in combination with medication.