Painkillers Increase Risk of Heart Attacks: Study

First Posted: May 30, 2013 06:49 AM EDT

A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Oxford states that prolonged use of painkillers increases the risk of heart attacks by a small but significant amount.

To prove the hypothesis, research was carried out on a certain class of painkillers. It was led by professor Colin Baigent of Oxford's Clinical Trial Service Unit, who conducted the study on a class of painkillers called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). 

The study shows that high doses of diclofenac and ibuprofen elevate the risk of cardiovascular disease. On an average, the drugs can trigger up to 3 extra heart attacks a year in every 1,000 patients treated. The researchers highlight the fact that the risk is linked to those with arthritis who consume high doses of painkillers over a prolonged period.

On the other hand, researchers also noticed that high doses of naproxen did not increase the risk of heart attacks, for which they predict that this drug had a protective effect, which balances the extra risk of heart attacks.

NSAIDs are used for their pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties in a wide range of conditions. Concerns over the health risk associated with NSAIDs rose after the trials on a new class of NSAIDs called COX-2 inhibitors or coxibs increased the risk of heart attacks. For the current study, the trials included were osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis.

Researchers worked on data of 639 randomized trials that involved 350,000 people. This allowed them to predict accurately the size of an increased risk of heart attacks and ulcer bleeding in particular types of patients.

It was seen that the risk was high in those who had a previous history of heart disease or other cardiac factors such as high blood pressure or cholesterol. The risk of ulcer bleeding raised by two- and fourfold, based on the NSAID routine.

"For many arthritis patients, NSAIDs reduce joint pain and swelling effectively and help them to enjoy a reasonable quality of life. This new research shows how to calculate the likely size of any risks of NSAIDs for an individual patient, which should help doctors and their patients when they consider the treatment options," said Baigent in a press statement.

The study was published in the journal The Lancet. 

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