May 30, 2013

Common painkillers linked to increased risk of heart attacks

Doctor discussing the patient's prescriptionTaking high doses of some widely used painkillers such as diclofenac and ibuprofen for a prolonged period increases the risk of heart attack by a small, but significant amount according to new research we've part-funded with the UK Medical Research Council.

In England in 2010, there were 17 million prescriptions for NSAIDs, with approximately one third of them diclofenac, one third ibuprofen, and one sixth naproxen.

This research, led by Professor Colin Baigent and his team at the Clinical Trial Service Unit & Epidemiological Studies Unit (CTSU) at the University of Oxford, found that high doses of some non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) mainly diclofenac and ibuprofen increased the risk of a major vascular event (heart attack, stroke or dying from cardiovascular disease) by around one third.

Those who need regularly prescribed painkillers should speak to their doctor about which drug is the most suitable choice for them

However, high doses of naproxen did not appear to increase the risk of heart attacks. The researchers say this may be because naproxen also has protective effects that balance out any extra risk of heart attacks.

Our Research Advisor Dr Shannon Amoils said: said: “This study supports previous findings showing that taking high doses of some NSAIDs such as diclofenac and ibuprofen for a prolonged period leads to a small increase in the risk of heart attack and stroke.

“Based on this research, we would reiterate the advice that people should take the lowest effective dose of these drugs for the shortest time necessary to control symptoms. Although people who take painkillers infrequently needn’t be overly concerned, those who need regularly prescribed painkillers should speak to their doctor about which drug is the most suitable choice for them.”

The research was published today in the Lancet Online.