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Scientists have discovered that the pain reliever mefenamic acid – usually given to help with period pain – has a notable side effect: it also reverses the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease in mice.
Mice with symptoms of Alzheimer's were treated with doses of mefenamic acid for one month, and their memory loss and brain inflammation completely cleared up.
If the same treatment can be translated to humans – although that's a big if – then we could have a promising new treatment for Alzheimer's disease on our hands.
The team from the University of Manchester in the UK thinks the drug's results could be due to a link between Alzheimer's and inflammation in the brain – something that mefenamic acid helps to tackle.
"There is experimental evidence now to strongly suggest that inflammation in the brain makes Alzheimer's disease worse," said lead researcher David Brough.
While studies have been conducted to see if mefenamic acid can improve behavior in transgenic mouse models of Alzheimer's disease there is no good evidence that mefenamic acid or other NSAIDs can treat or prevent Alzheimer's in humans; clinical trials of NSAIDs for treatment of Alzheimer's have found more harm than benefit.
Mefenamic acid is recommended to be taken with food. Known mild side effects of mefenamic acid include headaches, nervousness and vomiting. Serious side effects may include diarrhea, hematemesis (vomiting blood), haematuria (blood in urine), blurred vision, skin rash, itching and swelling, sore throat and fever.:334 It has been associated with acute liver damage. In 2008 the US label was updated with a warning concerning a risk of premature closure of the ductus arteriosus in pregnancy
People who take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (other than aspirin) such as mefenamic acid may have a higher risk of having a heart attack or a stroke than people who do not take these medications. These events may happen without warning and may cause death. This risk may be higher for people who take NSAIDs for a long time. Do not take an NSAID such as mefenamic acid if you have recently had a heart attack, unless directed to do so by your doctor. Tell your doctor if you or anyone in your family has or has ever had heart disease, a heart attack, or a stroke, if you smoke, and if you have or have ever had high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes. Get emergency medical help right away if you experience any of the following symptoms: chest pain, shortness of breath, weakness in one part or side of the body, or slurred speech.
If you will be undergoing a coronary artery bypass graft (CABG; a type of heart surgery), you should not take mefenamic acid right before or right after the surgery.