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Painkillers linked to heart disease

Published on 30 May 2013 10:30 AM

People who take high doses of certain painkillers would be wise to weigh up the health benefits against the increased risk of heart attack or stroke that comes with them, researchers say.


The MRC Clinical Trial Service Unit & Epidemiological Studies Unit at the University of Oxford has found those who take large amounts of some non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) - including diclofenac and ibuprofen - are more likely to suffer from heart complications.

The study looked at data from more than 353,000 patients and involved instances of prolonged intake of high doses of NSAIDs, commonly used by millions of people around the world to alleviate pain caused by osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Among the findings revealed in The Lancet, the researchers discovered that three in every 1,000 people with a moderate risk of heart disease who took daily 150mg and 2400mg doses of diclofenac and ibuprofen respectively for a year suffered an avoidable heart attack, and 1 in 3 would not survive it.

NSAIDs link to heart failure

The study also found that the NSAIDs double the likelihood of people having heart failure and also increase the risk of people suffering from gastrointestinal problems like bleeding ulcers.

The risk is higher in those who are already more likely to suffer from heart disease, according to the lead author of the study, Professor Colin Baigent from the University of Oxford. Armed with information on the current health of patients, he said it is possible to predict the extra risks caused by taking the drugs.

But Prof Baigent said people should not worry too much as the risks are still very small and only come into play when large doses of NSAIDs are involved.

'People should not worry too much'

Professor Alan Silman, medical director of Arthritis Researfch UK, backed up the advice. He said arthritis sufferers should not be overly concerned if they are taking the drugs.

Prof Silman said the link to cardiovascular problems and other complaints has been known for years and research is concentrating on finding alternative treatments that are safer but just as effective.

As a result, many doctors are prescribing naproxen instead of diclofenac and encouraging patients to refrain from smoking, to eat healthy diets and keep a regular check on their blood pressures to control their conditions.

Prof Silman said patients should talk to their GPs if they are worried about the drugs they are taking.

Copyright Press Association 2013

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Last updated: Dec 05 2018

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