Painkillers may increase heart attack risk

Prolonged use of simple painkillers could shoot up the risk of an individual suffering from a heart attack, a new study finds.

This new research, led by Professor Colin Baigent from Oxford's Clinical Trial Service Unit, emphasized on the overuse of a special class of pain killers commonly known as NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). These drugs, when used over a prolonged duration, may increase the risk of an individual suffering from a vascular condition, particularly heart attack or stroke.

"The research shows that, when used in high doses, diclofenac and ibuprofen increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, on average causing about 3 extra heart attacks a year in every 1000 patients treated, one of which would be fatal," Baigent explained.

Published in The Lancet and funded by the Medical Research Council and the British Heart Foundation, this study also further revealed that naproxen, also widely used, may not increase the risk of heart attacks as diclofenac and ibuprofen do. This may be due to the protective effects of naproxen that balance out any harmful effects on the heart that may occur due to its overuse the researchers speculate.

Also, the health risks associated with the use of these painkillers is more relevant to patients suffering from chronic pain, such as those suffering from arthritis, which actually need to take painkillers everyday.  

"A short course of lower dose tablets purchased without a prescription, for example, for a muscle sprain, is not likely to be hazardous," he said.

The team of researchers gathered data from 639 randomized trials that involved more than 300,000 people and re-analyzed the data to better understand the effects of NSAIDs in certain patients.

"For many arthritis patients, NSAIDs reduce joint pain and swelling effectively and help them to enjoy a reasonable quality of life," Baigent added. "We really must be careful about the way we present the risks of these drugs.

The NSAIDs may be a life saver for patients who are victims of chronic pain, but it may also present certain other unexpected problems. Rightly, powerful drugs may have serious side effects, which is why, these kind of studies need to be done more, and the info should be spread around, to help patients make better decisions regarding their health, which may in turn prevent overuse of medications too.

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