Common Painkillers Pose Heart Risks


PainkillersA study by researchers at the University of Oxford has found that long term use of the painkillers ibuprofen and diclofenac can increase the risk of heart failure, heart attacks, stomach bleeding and even death.

Increased heart risk with anti-inflammatory drugs

Ibuprofen and diclofenac are 2 common painkillers used by those suffering from severe pain. They are commonly used by sufferers of arthritis as they are said to decrease the swelling caused by the disease. The drugs make day-to-day life easier and more bearable for these patients.

However, the study looked at long term effects of such prescription drugs, using 150mg of diclofenac and 2,400mg of ibuprofen. The investigation was carried out using the records of more than 353,000 patient records from 639 separate clinical trials.

The research showed that for every 1,000 people taking the drugs, every year there would be:
  • 3 additional heart attacks
  • 4 more cases of heart failure
  • 1 death
  • Cases of stomach bleeding

Every year, the victims of heart attacks would increase from 8 in 1,000 people not taking the drugs, to 11 in 1,000 people taking the drugs.

The study also shows that high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and smoking increase the risk of heart problems.

Significance of the heart risks

The risks are said only to affect those relying on the drugs in the long term. Those taking a short course of medication should not be alarmed.

The lead researcher, Professor Colin Baigent has described the study as showing a low increase of risk from taking the drugs. However, it is a risk that the patient should have control over.

It is recommended that patients discuss the risks with their doctor and decide whether or not they are willing to take the 3 in 1,000 risk of having a heart attack. For those that rely on the drugs to get by day-to-day, the increased risk may be worth it in order to alleviate the pain which stops them going about their normal lives.

An alternative drug is available which has lower risks of heart complications. The drug naproxen is already being prescribed by doctors to higher risk patients.

Other risks

As well as heart risks, by far the most common problem linked to the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) is duodenal ulcers.

However, patients who take NSAIDs can be treated with a drug such as Omeprazole or Lansoprazole. These drugs reduce gastric acid production and the risk of developing gastric and duodenal ulcers.

Therefore, a failure to prescribe these drugs in conjunction with NSAIDs may represent a breach of duty. This could have serious consequences if that substandard care results in a gastric or duodenal ulcer, especially if the ulcer then perforates and requires life- saving surgery.

Royal College of General Practitioners response to the study

The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) chair, Dr Clare Gerada has responded to the study. She speaks of how it is important to keep the results in context as thousands of people regularly rely on the painkillers to relieve their symptoms.

"Pain blights the daily lives of millions of people and treatments such as ibuprofen can vastly improve the quality of their lives, if used properly."

Dr Gerada said that "all medications have risks and this study allows us to have an open discussion with patients. Patient’s should not suddenly stop taking the medications or make urgent appointments with their GP in light of this study."

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