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article imageShort-term use of ibuprofen raises heart health concerns

By Tim Sandle     May 10, 2017 in Health
A new Canadian study suggests the use of ibuprofen, and other common non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID), increases the risk of a person suffering from a heart attack. The risk is greatest during the first week of use.
Ibuprofen is a common painkiller. It can be purchased directly by consumers or it may be prescribed by a medical doctor. Ibuprofen is used primarily to treat fever, mild to moderate pain, painful menstruation, osteoarthritis, dental pain, headaches, and pain from kidney stones.
Chronic pain has reached epidemic proportions
Chronic pain has reached epidemic proportions
Delsiegrates / Wikimedia Commons
The heart-related health issue has come to light following the completion of a major review study. For this, researchers examined data from just under 450,000 people (drawn from Canada, Finland and Germany). Of these, 61,460 had suffered a heart attack. Health related data was cross-referred with the medical history of the people, in relation to three common anti-inflammatory painkillers: ibuprofen, diclofenac and naproxen. Two other less commonly used NSAIDs were also examined: celecoxib and rofecoxib.
This news may not come as a surprise to Digital Journal readers. In March 2017, Karen Graham reported on a similar study from Denmark which drew a link between NSAIDs and cardiac complications (see: "Some common pain relievers increase the risk of cardiac arrest.")
The outcome was an elevated risk of a person suffering from a heart attack when taking the drugs. The levels were between was between 24 per cent and 58 per cent overall, when compared with not taking NSAID medications. These effects were only over the longer-term; the analysis showed using the drugs for a period of longer than one month did not increase risk any further.
The dose levels required to raise the risk to the maximum level varied. For example, with ibuprofen this was 1200 milligrams, which is equal to taking three maximum-strength tablets every day. The researchers signal this as a warning to medical doctors when prescribing medications. However, the issue has potentially wider implications, given the relative ease for buying the drugs.
Generic ibuprofen tablets
Generic ibuprofen tablets
Generic Drug Images
The new warning comes from a research study led by Michèle Bally of the University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre in Canada. The researcher is quoted by The Independent as saying: “Taking any dose of NSAIDs for one week, one month, or more than a month was associated with an increased risk of myocardial infarction [heart attack].”
Professor Bally also states: “Prescribers should consider weighing the risks and benefits of NSAIDs before instituting treatment, particularly for higher doses.”
It should be pointed out that the risk of heart attack remains low; the research notes that a very tiny risk increases to a small risk, when the drug is taking for a week or more. Some news outlets have reported this as a 50 percent increase in risk, which is not an entirely accurate representation of the new research findings. What the researchers found was an increase in the ‘at risk’ population rather than an overall increase across the general population. Moreover, other factors - not just the pills - could be involved.
Nevertheless, medics are concerned. Commenting on the study, Dr. Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation told CNN “We already know that these drugs increase your risk of having a heart attack. However this large-scale study worryingly highlights just how quickly you become at risk of having a heart attack after starting NSAIDs.” In other words, the findings should be taken on board to inform existing clinical guidelines.
The new findings have been reported to the British Medical Journal, in a research paper. Readers should note that the paper is only accessible by first registering on the journal site.
More about Ibuprofen, NSAID, Drugs, Heart, Heart attack
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