Common Pain Killers Linked to Heart Attacks

January 21, 2016

The next time that headache or painful muscle has you reaching for the bottle of pain reliever, stop. That seemingly harmless dose of Motrin, Aleve or Advil could be increasing your risk of deadly heart attack – a high price to pay in the quest to dull a headache.

Such pain relievers are part of a family of drugs known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs. While considered “generally safe,” mountains of evidence shows frequent use of such medications could be contributing to an increased risk of heart attack.

Study links pain reliever to increased deaths from heart attack

For five years, researchers in Denmark followed the health of about 100,000 people who had suffered a first heart attack. During the course of the study, nearly half of them were prescribed an NSAID type of pain killer at least once. Results were published online in the journal Circulation.

The shocking results were that after just one year, those subjects who used an NSAID were 60 percent more likely to die during each year of the study, compared to those who did not. This is a relative increase when comparing the two groups of subjects – those who have used an NSAID and those who have not.

Looking at the findings in absolute terms, there were 20 deaths per 100 people during the first year among pain medication users compared to just 12 deaths per 100 people among the nonusers. During the fifth year, there were 9.5 deaths per 100 NSAID users and 6 deaths per 100 non-NSAID users. The study also found that those who took any NSAID pain reliever instead of aspirin increased their risk of having a second heart attack.

Be careful: Your pain medication can damage your heart

The NSAID diclofenac, sometimes more familiar under the trade name Cataflm, was linked to the largest increases in death and heart attack rates. Medications containing naproxen, such as Naprosyn and Aleve, appeared to have a slightly lower rate.

The Danish study is only the tip of the iceberg. Countless studies over recent years have that proven pain relievers spark a number of dangerous health conditions. For example, a 2013 study reviewed 600 trials and found high doses of NSAIDs increased the risk of heart attacks by one-third.

Taking ibuprofen was shown to more than double the likelihood of a coronary event. Even more concerning, a 2014 study found that deaths associated with strokes were 19 percent higher in patients who had been taking NSAIDs.

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