Common Painkillers May Increase Heart Attack Risk

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Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are commonly used over-the-counter drugs to relieve pain or reduce fever. Routinely taking common painkillers could put people at a heightened risk of heart attack, a new study suggests.

Researchers from Canada, Finland and Germany reviewed all available studies in this area from Canadian and European databases, analyzing the findings from 446,763 people, with 61,460 of them having had a heart attack. Their goal was to calculate the risk, determinants and time course of heart attacks associated with the use of NSAIDs under typical circumstances.

The likelihood of experiencing a heart attack was calculated to increase by an average of 20% to 50%, compared with someone not taking the drugs, regardless of the dosage and amount of time the medications are taken.

“We found that all common NSAIDs shared a heightened risk of heart attack,” said Dr. Michèle Bally, an epidemiologist at the University of Montreal Hospital Research Center, who led the research. “There is a perception that naproxen has the lowest cardiovascular risk (among the NSAIDs), but that’s not true.”

“People minimize the risks because drugs are over the counter and they don’t read labels,” Bally said. “Why not consider all treatment options? … Every therapeutic decision is a balance of benefits and risk.”

The scientists say the over the counter and prescription pills including ibuprofen, diclofenac, celecoxib and naproxen should now be used with care and at the lowest possible dose.

The researchers stress that the findings are purely observational, as they used readily available data about certain populations. Not all potentially influential factors could be taken into account, they say.

The study was published in the British Medical Journal.

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