Common prescription painkillers linked to increased risk of heart failure

29 September 2016        

Category: BHF Comment


A study has found that commonly used prescribed painkillers, used to treat pain and inflammation, are associated with an increased risk of hospitalisation for heart failure.

The drugs include traditional non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) as well as new generation anti-inflammatory drugs, known as COX-2 inhibitors.

Previous studies have shown an association between use of traditional NSAIDs and COX 2 inhibitors and an increased risk of heart failure, but this research, published today in The BMJ, set out to estimate the risk of hospital admission for heart failure with use of individual NSAIDs.

The team of researchers, led by Giovanni Corrao at the University of Milano-Bicocca in Italy, looked at almost 10 million NSAIDs users from four European countries including the UK.

The findings

Current use of any NSAID was found to be associated with a raised risk of hospital admission for heart failure, compared with past use.

The researchers found that the magnitude of risk varied between individual NSAIDs and according to the dose prescribed. At very high doses, risk of admission for heart failure doubled for some NSAIDs.

Read our Heart Matters guide to prescription painkillers.

What we think of the research

Our Medical Director, Professor Peter Weissberg, said:

"This large observational study reinforces previous research showing that some NSAIDs, a group of drugs commonly taken by patients with joint problems, increase the risk of developing heart failure. 

"It has been known for some years now that such drugs need to be used with caution in patients with, or at high risk of, heart disease. This applies mostly to those who take them on a daily basis rather than only occasionally.

"Since heart and joint problems often coexist, particularly in the elderly, this study serves as a reminder to doctors to consider carefully how they prescribe NSAIDs, and to patients that they should only take the lowest effective dose for the shortest possible time. They should discuss their treatment with their GP if they have any concerns."

Further information

Find out more about research we have funded into heart failure with your support.

Read more