Researchers have warned that daily doses of over-the-counter painkillers can increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes by up to 40%. Patients who regularly took diclofenac (the most commonly prescribed non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug last year) were shown to have a 40% higher chance of suffering from heart problems. Six million prescriptions were written for the drug last year, not including those who bought the drug over the counter.
A new study showed that Vioxx (the anti-inflammatory drug used to treat arthritis that was banned in 2004 amid evidence that it led to heart attacks) had only a slightly higher risk factor of 45%. Ibuprofen was linked to an 18% higher risk of heart attack and stroke, and as some of our previous articles have shown, and has also been linked to a higher chance of a second heart attack and an irregular heart beat.
The figures were published in a paper compiling evidence from 51 studies into the impact of NSAIDs on nearly 3 million patients. The drugs ranged from those used exclusively in hospitals, to those easily bought over the counter. A smaller group of studies were used by researchers from the University of Toronto and Hull York medical school to distinguish between low and high doses of the drugs.
They found that low doses of diclofenac was linked to a 22% higher risk of heart problems. Larger amounts of the drug, however, raised the chance of a patient developing heart disease or stroke by 98%. Ibuprofen, on the other hand, had no negative impact of patients who were taking amounts below those recommended on over-the-counter packets, but raised the heart risk by 78% in people taking greater doses.
Dr Patricia McGettigan, who led the research, said: “In choosing which one of the many available NSAIDs to use, patients and doctors would benefit from the knowledge of the balance between benefit and harm for individual NSAIDs.”
The researchers said that naprofen and low doses of ibuprofen were the safest to the heart, but patients’ wider risk factors should be taken into consideration before they are prescribed any NSAID by their doctors.
Dr McGettigan also said: “A patient with previous heart problems, high blood pressure and diabetes has an annual background risk of heart attack over 5%. Use of diclofenac will increase that by 40%, giving an annual risk of over 7%. In contrast, a healthy young woman has an annual risk of heart attack of less than 1%- she will experience a negligible increase in cardiovascular risk with any of the commonly used NSAIDs.”
Written exclusively for The Life Dept | Live Longer | 28 September 2011.
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