Common painkillers pose heart risk
Patients with arthritis are often prescribed to take high doses of over-the-counter painkillers for a long period of time as a way to help control their joint pain. But new research from the University of Oxford suggests that taking ibuprofen or diclofen – two widely used non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs – can raise the risk of heart problems. And the risk of cardiac complications rose even higher in smokers and overweight patients.
The Oxford researchers investigated 353,000 patients from 639 different clinical trials to assess the impact and safety of the medications. They looked at high-dose usage rather than over-the-counter use – 150mg of diclofenac or 2,400mg ibuprofen each day. (For a point of comparison, a single over-the-counter ibuprofen tablet is 200mg). The study found that, for every 1,000 people taking the drugs, there would, each year, be three additional heart attacks, four more cases of heart failure and one death from stomach bleeding than would occur in a population who was not taking the meds.
These anti-inflammatory drugs are widely used and are generally considered safe, though this study may cause some doctors to reconsider prescribing such heavy doses for long periods of time. The study researchers point to alternative treatments that may not carry such side effects, such as naproxen, which has a reduced risk of heart complications associated with its use.