New study suggests pain killers could increase risk of heart attack

10 May 2017        

Category: BHF Comment

A person clasping their hands over their heart

New research shows a heightened risk of heart attacks found with common painkillers in routine use

A new study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) has shown that people who use commonly prescribed non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to treat pain and inflammation, such as ibuprofen, could be raising their risk of having a heart attack.

The study

The new research suggests that a heart attack could happen as early as in the first week of use and especially within the first month of taking NSAIDs. Previous studies suggested that both traditional and selective NSAIDs could increase the risk of heart attack, but the timing of the risk, the effect of dose, treatment duration, and the comparative risks between NSAIDs were poorly understood.

The researchers

An international team of researchers, led by Michele Bally at the University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre, set out to characterise the risks of heart attack associated with use of oral NSAIDs under real life practice circumstances.

For their study, the researchers carried out a review and analysis of relevant studies from various healthcare databases including those from Canada, Finland and the United Kingdom.

The results

Collectively, they analysed results on 446,763 people of whom 61,460 had a heart attack. The study found that taking any dose of NSAIDs for one week, one month, or more than a month was associated with an increased risk of heart attack.

Overall the increase in risk of a heart attack is about 20 to 50 per cent if using NSAIDs compared with not using these medications. To put this in perspective, as a result of this increase, the risk of heart attack due to NSAIDs is on average about 1% annually. 

What did we say?

Our Associate Medical Director Dr Mike Knapton said: “Patients and doctors must weigh up the risks and benefits of taking high doses of these common painkillers, particularly if you have survived a heart attack or you are at a higher risk.

“We already know that these drugs increase your risk of having a heart attack. However this large-scale study worryingly highlights just how quickly you become at risk of having a heart attack after starting NSAIDS.

“Whether you are being prescribed painkillers like ibuprofen, or buying them over the counter, people must be made aware of the risk and alternative medication should be considered where appropriate.”

Find out more about our research into heart attacks