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Daily Ibuprofen Ups Heart Attack, Stroke Chances

Sep 5, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

Taking ibuprofen daily to relieve arthritis pain could put some older people at a higher risk of heart problems, including heart attack and stroke, a new study has found.  The researchers conducting the study found that ibuprofen was the only painkiller, other than Vioxx, that increased this risk.

The painkiller study was conducted by scientists at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, and published in the journal Arthritis Care & Research.  The research team studied the medical records of female patients from two databases of Medicare recipients enrolled in drug benefit programs between 1999 and 2004. The average age of the patients in the study was 80.

 According to Reuters, they identified 76,000 new users of COX-2 inhibitors, prescription drugs that include Vioxx, Pfizer's Celebrex, and others. They also found 53,000 new users of NSAIDs - a class of over-the-counter drugs - that includes aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen and other over-the-counter pain relievers.

Vioxx users had the highest rates of heart attack, congestive heart failure and stroke, and naproxen users had the lowest, they found. Among patients who had survived at least one heart attack, Vioxx users had 9.4 more serious heart events per 100 people per year, and ibuprofen users 11.4 more such events, compared to nonusers.

Although the study only looked at white women in their 80s, the researchers said that doctors could use it as a guide when prescribing daily medications for treating arthritis pain.

The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) now requires all COX-2 inhibitors and NSAIDs to bear a black box warning regarding heart attack and stroke risks.  The warnings were added to the drugs after Vioxx was recalled in 2004. 

Vioxx was approved for use in 1999, and quickly became a blockbuster for Merck, with annual sales of $2.5 billion.  But the FDA ordered Vioxx off the market in 2004 after studies showed that people who took the drug had a higher risk for heart attack. The recall came after an analysis of patients using Vioxx linked the defective drug to more than 27,000 heart attacks or sudden cardiac deaths in the U.S. from 1999 through 2003. Since then, Vioxx the subject of thousands of drug injury law suits.

Late last year, Merck announced that it would a $4.85 billion settlement with Vioxx plaintiffs.  Under the terms of the Vioxx settlement, Merck set up $4 billion fund for people who claim they suffered heart attacks as a result of Vioxx, and another $850 million fund for those who suffered ischemic strokes.  Initial payments for the Vioxx settlement started going out to some plaintiffs last month.

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