A new study has found a link between taking high doses of painkillers, such as ibuprofen, and heart attacks.
According to the study, using these Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for as little as 1 week may elevate the risk of heart attack. The researchers also found that NSAIDs pose the greatest heart attack risk in the first 30 days of taking the drugs.
But scientists say the findings are not clearly defined and they point to other factors, rather than just the pills for these results.
The study builds on a previous body of work linking NSAIDs to heart ailments.
Michele Bally of the University of Montreal Hospital Research Center in Canada led the study.
A number of previous studies suggested that taking certain NSAIDs may increase the risk of heart attack.
The evidence is so strong that in 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)reinforced their warning about the risk of heart attack with the use of NSAIDs.
Bally and her team, however, note that previous studies examining the link between NSAID use and heart attack had many limitations, including lack of comparisons with a placebo and small sample sizes.
For the new study, the researchers reviewed 82 studies that investigated the incidence of heart attack with NSAID use.
After screening for eligibility, the team was left with 8 studies comprising of a total of 446,763 men and women from Canada, Finland, and the United Kingdom. Of these people, 61,460 had experienced a heart attack.
While investigating the NSAID use of each individual, the researchers focused on specific types of NSAID, which included ibuprofen, celecoxib, diclofenac, and naproxen. These painkillers were prescribed by doctors and weren’t bought over the counter.
Overall, they discovered that these Nsaid painkillers to treat pain and inflammation could raise the risk of heart attacks by 20 to 50 percent even in the first week of use.
And the risk was observed especially in the first month when people were taking high doses (for example more than 1200mg of ibuprofen a day).
Bally and colleagues identified a possible 100% increased risk with rofecoxib, and a possible 75% increased risk for both ibuprofen and naproxen.
But the researchers say there are a number of factors that make it difficult to be absolutely certain of the link. They note that their study is purely observational, so it failed to make any conclusions about cause and effect between NSAID use and risk of heart attack.
The researchers say that based on their study, they’re 90% certain that NSAID use raises heart attack risk.
“In summary, compared with non-use of NSAIDs in the preceding year, we documented that current use of all studied NSAIDs, including naproxen, was associated with an increased risk of acute myocardial infarction.
Given that the onset of risk of acute myocardial infarction occurred in the first week and appeared greatest in the first month of treatment with higher doses, prescribers should consider weighing the risks and benefits of NSAIDs before instituting treatment, particularly for higher doses.”
Kevin McConway, emeritus professor of statistics at The Open University, says the paper shed some light on possible associations between Nsaid painkillers and heart attacks.
But he added: “Despite the large number of patients involved, some aspects do still remain pretty unclear.
“It remains possible that the painkillers aren’t actually the cause of the extra heart attacks.”
Current UK guidelines state that Nsaids must be used carefully in people with heart problems and in some cases (such as very severe heart failure) they should not be used at all.
The study was published in The BMJ.