Continued Use Of Some Painkillers Can Raise Heart Risks
May 30, 2013

Painkillers Slightly Increase Heart Risk

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Oxford has found that common painkillers can slightly increase the risk of heart problems in the long run.

Common medications, such as ibuprofen and diclofenac were specifically noted in the study as being “equally dangerous” as Vioxx, a drug which has been removed from the market in the US due to its potentially dangerous effects.

The Oxford researchers point out that this slight risk accompanies high and frequent doses of the medications. Arthritis sufferers who take these drugs to alleviate their symptoms may be at a greater risk than someone who takes the drug a few times a month to get rid of a headache.

This study, which has been published in The Lancet, found that these high and frequent doses increased the risk of a cardiovascular event by one-third. Out of 1,000 people with an average risk of heart disease who take high doses of ibuprofen or diclofenac, three may experience a heart attack which could have been avoided. Statistically, one of these three will die from their cardiac event, say the Oxford researchers. They also note that some patients may still choose to take the risk, but that it´s a risk everyone should be aware of.

"Three per thousand per year sounds like it is quite a low risk, but the judgement has to be made by patients," professor Colin Baigent, lead researcher in this study, told BBC News.

“So if you're a patient and you go and sit in front of your doctor and discuss it, you are the one who should be making the judgement about whether three per thousand per year is worth it to allow you, potentially, to go about your daily life."

They also note that these risks are even greater for patients who smoke or are overweight.

Similar results have been found in previous studies, but the recent Oxford study took a deeper look at the effect of these painkillers on the heart. All told the researchers investigated records of more than 353,000 patients from more than 639 clinical trials. These patients were also taking prescription strength doses of the drug rather than the doses found in over-the-counter offerings, totaling 150mg of diclofenac and 2,400mg of ibuprofen each day.

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

These higher cardiac risks now place these non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) at the same risk level as COX-2 inhibitors, or coxibs, which have recently been classified as a new class of NSAIDs. The previously mentioned Vioxx was also classified as a coxib NSAID and was pulled from shelves in 2004 after similar heart risks were found.

Though the researchers found these slight risks, they also say the benefit to these drugs is still notable. Patients who suffer from chronic pain, such as arthritis patents, can still receive a benefit from these prescription-strength drugs.

Not all NSAIDs were found to have the same heart effects as diclofenac or ibuprofen, the researchers found.

One drug, called naproxen, was not found to increase the risk of heart disease, likely because it´s created with certain preventative elements to protect heart health. In closing, Baigent urged patients to speak with their doctor first before making any hasty decisions about their prescriptions.

"We really must be careful about the way we present the risks of these drug,” he said. "They do have risks, but they also have benefits, and patients should be presented with all those bits of information and allowed to make choices for themselves."