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Posted: March 16, 2017

Common painkillers increase risk of heart attack by one-third, new study finds

Pile of assorted painkillers
ROBERT BROOK/Getty Images/Science Photo Library RF
Pile of assorted painkillers

By Fiza Pirani

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Ibuprofen is one of the most common over-the-counter pain relievers used worldwide, and researchers have long warned against its risk of heart attack and stroke.

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According to a Danish study published in the March 2017 issue of the “European Heart Journal—Cardiovascular Pharmacotherapy,” the consumption of any kind of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, could increase the risk of heart attack by 31 percent.

“Allowing these drugs to be purchased without a prescription and without any advice or restrictions sends a message to the public that they must be safe,” Gunnar H. Gislason, author of the study and professor of cardiology, said in a news release. “The findings are a stark reminder that NSAIDs are not harmless.”

To come up with the results, researchers used the Danish Cardiac Arrest Registry to collect the medical history of nearly 30,000 patients who had suffered a heart attack outside of the hospital from 2000 to 2010.

They also examined all NSAID prescriptions filled at Danish pharmacies since 1995.

According to Time, ibuprofen and naproxen, both available over the counter in the United States as Advil and Aleve, require prescriptions in Denmark.

The only NSAID sold without a prescription, Time reported, is ibuprofen in 200mg, the same as a regular-strength Advil in the U.S.

Both diclofenac, which requires a prescription in both Denmark and the U.S., and ibuprofen were found to be the most commonly used NSAIDs in heart attack cases, the study found.

Together, diclofenac and prescription-strength ibuprofen contributed 50 percent and 31 percent of increased risk of cardiac arrest respectively. 

The results showed that consumption of any kind of NSAID increased risk of heart attack by 31 percent.

Upon publishing the research, Gislason warned in a press release that NSAIDs should be used with caution.

Here are some of his tips:

  • Avoid consumption if you have cardiovascular disease or many cardiovascular risk factors.
  • When taking ibuprofen, don’t take more than 1200 mg a day.
  • Avoid purchasing NSAIDs in supermarkets or gas stations where there is no professional advice around. 
  • Naproxen is “probably the safest NSAID” and patients can take up to 500 mg a day.
  • Diclofenac is “the riskiest NSAID” and should be avoided by patients with cardiovascular disease and the general population. Instead, opt for the other safer drugs with similar painkilling effects.

Learn more about the study and its methodology.

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