Common painkillers raise heart attack risk by over 50pc
Taking common painkillers such as ibuprofen for only a week can raise the risk of having a heart attack by more than 50pc, a study suggests.
Scientists already suspected a connection between potentially fatal cardiac events and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines, which also includes diclofenac and naproxen. But there was uncertainty as to how long a patient could take the drugs before putting themselves at added risk.
The new investigation, the largest ever of its kind, found anti-inflammatories may boost the chances of a heart attack as early as in the first week of use. They found a particularly strong connection within the first month.
Published in The BMJ, the study urges doctors to weigh up risks with the benefits of prescribing the drugs.
Because of the observational nature of the research, which examined the prescribing data and health outcomes of more than 446,000 people, scientists cannot say for sure why anti-inflammatories are linked to greater heart attack risk. Previous research has suggested the connection may involve the drugs blocking in a hormone called prostacylin, which protects blood vessels.
The research team from Canada, Finland and Germany said there was "a rapid onset of risk" for heart attack within the first week of use, while risk was highest during the first month of taking the painkillers. However, using the drugs for longer than one month did not increase risk more compared with shorter use.
Scientists have stressed the study does not prove a causal link between painkillers and heart attacks as there may be other linking factors. For example, the increased heart attack risk may actually be caused by the complaint prompting a person to take painkillers.