One of the most common over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers is ibuprofen, with brand names such as Advil and Aleve. However, researchers have warned against its risk of heart attack and stroke for some time.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are used to relieve pain from various conditions such as headaches, muscle aches, tendonitis, dental pain, and menstrual cramps. It also reduces pain, swelling, and joint stiffness caused by arthritis, bursitis, and gout attacks. It works by blocking the body’s production of certain natural substances that cause inflammation, according to WebMD.
Danish Study Involving Ibuprofen
A Danish study published in March 2017 in the European Heart Journal – Cardiovascular Pharmacotherapy reported that the consumption of any kind of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen may increase the risk of heart attack by 31 percent.
The only NSAID sold without a prescription in Denmark is ibuprofen in 200 mg tablets, equal to a regular-strength Advil in the United States.
“Allowing these drugs to be purchased without a prescription, and without any advice or restrictions, sends a message to the public that they must be safe,” said Gunnar H. Gislason, professor of cardiology at Copenhagen University Hospital and author of the study. “The findings are a stark reminder that NSAIDs are not harmless.”
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To arrive at the results, researchers used the Danish Cardiac Arrest Registry to gather the medical history of almost 30,000 patients who had suffered a heart attack from 2000 to 2010. In addition, they examined all NSAID prescriptions filled at pharmacies in Denmark since 1995.
They found that 3,376 people with cardiac arrest had taken an NSAID in the 30 days before their cardiovascular episode. When they compared this to preceding months without heart problems, the found that filling a prescription for any NSAID raised the risk of cardiac arrest by 31 percent, according to Time.
When broken down by specific medications, diclofenac was associated with a 50 percent increased risk, and prescription-strength ibuprofen with a 31 percent increased risk.
Gislason warned in a press release that NSAIDs should be used with caution. Some of his recommendations are:
Avoid consumption if you have cardiovascular disease
Take no more than 1200 mg of ibuprofen a day
Avoid buying NSAIDs in supermarkets or gas stations where no professional advice is present
Naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn) is “probably the safest NSAID” and patients can take up to 500 mg a day
Diclofenac is “the riskiest NSAID” and should be avoided by patients with cardiovascular disease and the general population. Instead, opt for the other safer drugs with similar painkilling effects.
Diclofenac is the generic name for the NSAID sold as Voltaren, among other brand names. It can increase the risk of heart trouble and has been linked to heart attacks, strokes, and blood clots – all of which can be deadly. Signs of stroke or heart problems are chest pain, shortness of breath, changes in speech, or other unusual symptoms.
An Emory University professor of medicine and public health, Peter Wilson, told The New York Times, “There is great concern that people think these drugs are benign and they are probably not.”
Prof. Wilson is among a group of medical experts agreeing with the government’s warning that certain non-aspirin pain medications, including ibuprofen, may actually increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, even in low doses. He was on a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) panel in 2014 given the task of examining the new evidence on NSAID, a category including Advil, Aleve, Celebrex, and Motrin lB.
“The people who should be most careful are those over 65 with a history of heart disease,” Wilson said. “The thought is these are good for short-term relief, probably for your younger person with no history of cardiovascular trouble,” he added.
The risk of heart attack and stroke from taking these medications is greater than the FDA previously said. There is “no period of use shown to be without risk,” one doctor told Time. Heart attack or stroke may occur even early in treatment, said the FDA.
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