Canadian researchers have published a study where common over-the-counter drugs used to treat pain and reduce fever, such as Advil and Motrin, were linked to patients having a higher risk of suffering a heart attack.

The risk increases between 20 and 50 percent compared to people who do not take the drugs. The study was based on association, although the dosage did seem to influence the heightened risk. The drug itself does not appear to cause the heart attack. The drugs pinpointed by the study were celecoxib, diclofenac, ibuprofen, naproxen, and rofecoxib.

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Image credit: Ageonics Medical.

Common painkillers may take they toll on the heart

Researchers already knew that NSAIDs could increase the risk of suffering a heart attack, although no large-scale studies have been made to confirm the claim.

For this study, researchers analyzed existing data on investigations that examined the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and incidence in cardiac arrest. They determined how subjects that took NSAIDs were at a higher risk of suffering cardiac events compared to those who did not take the drugs.

Heart Disease, Repatha
A way to lower the risk could be to tackle other heart disease factors, such as obesity and alcohol and tobacco use. Reducing the dosage is also recommended, although this must go alongside an approval from a doctor. Image credit: iStock.

A total of 82 studies were analyzed, and 67 of them were excluded for not containing the requested criteria. For 446,763 individuals, 61,460 of them having suffered from heart attacks, researchers identified risk factors and mapped relations between each variable, while taking into account the subject’s age whether it suffered from diabetes, vascular disease, pulmonary disease, arthritis, or any other serious condition that’s known to be linked to NSAID use.

The results show that NSAID use is associated with an increased risk of acute myocardial infarction:

“Odds ratio point estimates of acute myocardial infarction for current use indicate an associated increase in risk of 20% to 50% overall, with possible increases of 75% for ibuprofen and naproxen and more than a 100% increase for rofecoxib,” the study reads.

Additionally, the risk was higher for patients who were in their first month of treatment while also taking significant amounts of the drug, for example, more than one gram of ibuprofen per day.

Current guidelines warn against prescribing unsafe dosages of NSAIDs to patients that are at a high risk of suffering from cardiac events. On the other hand, some drugs such as celecoxib and rofecoxib are prescribed less as time goes by, as it has been proven that their use can cause serious side effects in the long term.

Heart disease is the leading global cause of death according to the World Health Organization, with 8 out of ever 10 cases having to do with heart attacks or strokes. Because using NSAIDs can increase worldwide mortality rates, doctors are now being prompted to review their prescriptions concerning these seemingly harmless drugs. Although it was known that NSAIDs increase the risk, researchers have now proved just how quickly the risk elevates within the first weeks of treatment as the patient starts taking the drugs.

Source: The British Medical Journal