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Serious health warning about NSAID medication

The health warning, as reported in the Daily Telegraph, applies to all medications classed as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. These medications are similar in that they provide analgesic (pain-killing) and antipyretic (fever-reducing) effects. In addition, at higher doses they provide anti-inflammatory effects. The most prominent members of this group of drugs are ibuprofen and naproxen (others examples are: diclofenac, indomethacin, ketorolac, nimesulide and piroxicam). The same correlation also applies to a class of drugs known as selective COX-2 inhibitors.

The new warning about regularly taking these medications for people aged over 40 comes from a decade-long study. The study shows that the risk of being admitted to hospital with heart failure is significantly higher for someone taking these medications on a regular basis compared with someone else, of a similar age, who does not.

The study has been published this week in the prestigious British Medical Journal. The study dew on medical records from some 10 million NSAID users, with records drawn from the U.K., the Netherlands, Italy and Germany.

The key finding is that those who had taken any NSAID in the previous 14 days had a 19 percent increased risk of hospital admission for heart failure compared to those who had used NSAIDs at any point in the past.

Speaking with the Daily Mirror, Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, stated: “This study serves as a reminder to doctors to consider carefully how they prescribe NSAIDs, and to patients that they should only take the lowest effective dose for the shortest possible time.”

In conversation with The Guardian, a representative from the Proprietary Association of Great Britain, the country’s trade association representing manufacturers of branded over-the-counter medicines, stressed that the people in the study were given NSAIDs on prescription. The chief executive John Smith indicated: “This observational study analysed prescription-only NSAIDs, used long-term by people with an average age of 77 years to treat conditions such as arthritis… The authors admit that the study has several limitations. The study does not provide data on absolute risk, therefore the probability of these people developing heart failure without the use of NSAIDs is unknown.”

Moreover, the finding does not mean scores of people are at risk. There will be connections with underlying health issues, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. These conditions will affect the overall health of the heart and its vulnerability.

Importantly the findings relate to older people and regular users of NSAIDs. Those who fall into this category should seek the opinion of a qualified medical practitioner rather than simply stopping taking any medication.

The British Medical Journal article is titled “Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and risk of heart failure in four European countries: nested case-control study”, and it was published on September 28, 2016.

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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