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Will Tylenol Help Prevent a Heart Attack?

Painkillers have been used in all sorts of situations, including treating chest pain caused by a heart attack (it won’t help), and Tylenol is one of the most popular options in the US.  But some research has shown that Tylenol, also known as acetaminophen, may actually increase the risk of a heart attack.

Unfortunately, the truth is that Tylenol will do nothing to prevent or treat a heart attack.  The same goes for most NSAIDs (a class of painkiller that includes ibuprofen, naproxen, and celecoxib), which may potentially raise 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?  While Tylenol is safer than NSAIDs, it likely won’t significantly reduce the pain of the heart attack, and it certainly won’t resolve the problem at hand.  Ideally, it should be avoided if alternatives are available.  Ideal alternatives include Aspirin or nitroglycerine (Nitro is prescription only), but more on these below.

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 en-route., If you don’t have aspirin or nitroglycerine, your best bet is to stay calm, sit or lay in the most comfortable position for you or the patient, and wait for emergency responders to arrive and begin treating you.

If you feel you really do need to take Tylenol, take the smallest dose 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 that 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 and 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 among painkiller options which include NSAIDs or Tylenol, Tylenol may actually be 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.  In any case, check with your doctor first.

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, partly for it’s ‘heart-safe’, blood thining effects.  Also note, Do not take take aspirin if: 

  • You have, or recently had any major bleeding
  • In the case of a possible stroke
  • If you’re allergic to aspirin

It’s also worth noting that aspirin can cause stomach discomfort and even stomach ulcers with prolonged or regular use.

Nonetheless, ff you’re wondering whether Tylenol is as good as aspirin for a heart attack, the answer is clear: No – Tylenol is not merely ‘not as good‘; it should ideally be avoided, while aspirin is a generally safe painkiller option for people at cardiovascular risk.

What Can Cardiovascular Disease Patients Take Instead of Tylenol?

Alternative options that behave similarly to aspirin, but without the potential harm of Tylenol or NSAIDs for heart attack sufferers would be Salsalate (Disalcid) or choline magnesium trisalicylate (Trilisate). Be aware that they don’t have as potent an anti-inflammatory effect, but they may help without the same risks.

Non-drug methods you could try to reduce pain are heating pads or ice.  These too will not help relieve a heart attack, but may provide comfort while waiting for EMS to arrive.  Even though you can’t solely rely on them, they may allow you to take a lower painkiller dose when used in combination with medication.