It is recommended that patients consider the increased risk of major cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, kidney, and liver complications before taking celecoxib. Celecoxib is contraindicated in the setting of coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery.
Celecoxib Safety Debated
The safety of the COX-2 inhibitor celecoxib (brand name Celebrex) came under scrutiny when the other COX-2 inhibitors were taken off the market more than a decade ago.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) position is that the risk for certain patients is worth the benefit of celecoxib. Taking the lowest effective dose of celecoxib, for the shortest time possible, is advised by the FDA, and prominent warnings are required on packages for all nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDS), including celecoxib, highlighting the risks.4
Results of a long-term, multinational clinical trial that began in 2006 to assess and compare the risk of celecoxib with other common NSAIDs have not yet been released.5
Heart-Related Risk Factors
The FDA has revised its warnings for people taking prescription NSAIDs, which include celecoxib, to include these findings:
- The added risk of a heart attack or stroke is not limited to long-term use. The risk can increase even during the first weeks of using an NSAID.
- People with heart disease or its risk factors have a higher rate of heart attack or stroke, but there is also an elevated risk for those without heart problems or heart disease risk factors.
- Research indicates that the risk goes up as the dose increases.
- The risk of heart failure also increases in people using NSAIDs.
Keeping the doctor informed of any medication prescribed by another doctor for the patient is always advised, but it is particularly important for those with heart problems.
Who Should Not Take Celecoxib
Celecoxib is not recommended for people:
- With stomach or intestinal bleeding
- Who have had an asthma attack or other allergic reaction to aspirin or to any other NSAID or sulfa drug
- Have had a coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) recently
Caution is recommended when considering celecoxib for a child with systemic onset juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. This could increase the risk of a serious bleeding/clotting condition known as disseminated intravascular coagulation.
Celecoxib use should be avoided in patients with advanced renal disease and used with caution in patients with moderate hepatic (liver) impairment; dosage adjustment is recommended.
The long-term use of NSAIDs in women of reproductive age may be associated with infertility that is reversible upon discontinuation of the medication.
Celecoxib Side Effects
In addition to heart-related risks such as heart attack and stroke, these side effects may be experienced:
- Serious skin reactions
- Serious liver problems
- Kidney problems, particularly if the patient becomes dehydrated
- Gastrointestinal problems. Diarrhea, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), nausea, and vomiting are the most common gastrointestinal side effects. Stomach bleeding and ulcers can also occur. While celecoxib is generally less irritating to the stomach than other NSAIDs in the short term, the long-term effect is unclear. Gastrointestinal problems tend to occur more often when the person drinks alcohol while taking the medication.
- Hypertension, or high blood pressure
- Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing)
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, also called dyspnea
- Sinusitis and upper respiratory infections
Among those with juvenile idiopathic arthritis, the most common adverse reactions—affecting 5% or more of patients—are abdominal pain, arthralgia (joint pain), cough, diarrhea, fever, headache, upper respiratory infection, nausea, upper abdominal pain, and vomiting.
It is best to let the doctor know about any side effects that occur. The doctor may conduct lab tests regularly to monitor the effects of the medication.
Considerations When Taking Celecoxib
It may be helpful to take these other health factors into account:
- Pregnancy. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding—or planning to get pregnant soon—are advised to discuss their medical history and current status with the doctor before celecoxib is prescribed. Medical studies have shown the medication poses a risk of harm to the baby when taken late in pregnancy, and risk or safety earlier in pregnancy has not been established.6 Celecoxib is rated a Category C for pregnancy safety prior to 30 weeks’ gestation and Category D from 30 weeks’ gestation onward, under the FDA’s ratings for medication safety during pregnancy. The ratings run from A through X, with A being the safest.
- Age. Older adults are more prone to side effects in general, and are more likely than young adults to experience age-related kidney or stomach difficulties.
- Drug interactions. Medications including blood thinners, diuretics (water pills), blood pressure medication, and steroids may interfere with celecoxib’s effectiveness. Taking other NSAIDs or acetaminophen at the same time as celecoxib may harm the liver.
- Planned surgery or medical tests. Celecoxib may need to be stopped prior to surgery or medical tests. Checking with the surgeon in advance is advised.
- Liver impairment. A dosage reduction should be considered in patients with moderate hepatic impairment and celecoxib use in not recommended in patient with severe hepatic impairment.
This is not a comprehensive list of potential risks and complications associated with celecoxib. Patients should communicate with their doctor and pharmacist to determine their specific situation.
Individual Needs Assessed
Working with the doctor to find the safest and most effective medication options is the recommended approach. The doctor can evaluate each patient's individual risk factors (e.g. the patient's likelihood for developing certain health problems, including heart attack, stroke, and gastrointestinal problems) and health needs to determine the safest and most effective treatment options. The physician will also take into consideration the patient's previous experience with NSAIDs.
In addition to discussing celecoxib with the doctor, keeping the doctor up-to-date on all other medications being taken—both prescription and over-the-counter—as well as vitamins and nutritional supplements is the best course of action.