Taking painkillers for just a week 'raises risk of heart attack'

There’s no harm in switching for an alternative that still works for you [Photo: Pexels]

We’re all guilty of popping ibuprofen a little more regularly than we should do – which is what makes the results of a new study that bit more worrying.

By analysing data from nearly 450,000 patients, Canadian researchers have linked five forms of painkillers (ibuprofen, rofecoxib, celecoxib, diclofenac, naproxen) to heart problems.

People who take high doses of drugs that are in the ‘non-steroidal anti-inflammatory’ family (NSAIDS) are most at risk, which starts to rise after just a week of starting to take them.

They calculated that – in relative terms – the risk of a heart attack rose by between a fifth and a half compared to not taking any painkillers.

However, we shouldn’t bin all of our drugs just yet – the University of Montreal scientists behind the study stressed that since we tend to only have a small risk having a heart attack in the first place, our chances of having an attack due to the drugs directly only adds up to about 1% a year.

Heart hands over sunset
Heart attack risk in most people is still generally low [Photo: Pexels]

This hasn’t stopped them from recommending doctors use alternative painkillers, however.

The researchers wrote in the British Medical Journal: “Given that the onset of risk of acute [heart attack] 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.”

They warned that high doses of ibuprofen were particularly risky – even when within an adult’s recommended amount: “Use for eight to 30 days at a high dose was particularly harmful for ibuprofen (more than 1200 mg/day),” they wrote.

“This is well within the maximum recommended dose for adults, which is 400mg three or four times a daily – a total of up to 1,600mg.”

Taking high doses of ibuprofen is particularly risky [Photo: Pexels]

They found that patients who took ibuprofen for a week had a 48% per cent increased relative risk of a heart attack, while those taking it for up to a month had the risk go up by 75%.

Celecoxib takers saw a 24% increase, meanwhile, naproxen 53%, diclofenac 50% and refecoxib 58% – though remember the researchers’ note about the risk still not adding up to that much overall.

Dr Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, told Mail Online: “This large-scale study worryingly highlights just how quickly you become at risk of having a heart attack after starting NSAIDs.

“Whether you are being prescribed painkillers like ibuprofen, or buying them over the counter, people must be made aware of the risk and alternative medication should be considered where appropriate.”

Of course if you need to treat pain, you need to treat pain – but perhaps you should consider switching up your medication for an alternative once in a while.

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