Common Pain Meds Linked to Higher Risk of Heart Disease

Common Pain Meds Linked to Higher Risk of Heart Disease

Ibuprofen and other common painkillers have been linked to an increased risk of cardiac arrest, according to a new Danish study published in the European Heart Journal—Cardiovascular Pharmacotherapy. Authors say you should take caution when taking drugs, and people with heart problems may want to avoid them.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, are among the most commonly used drugs worldwide. Previous studies have linked them to increased risk of heart attack and stroke, heart failure, and high blood pressure. Because some of them are sold over the counter, experts worry that people perceive them as safe and free from side effects.


The new study only looked at prescription NSAIDs, but in Denmark, these include ibuprofen and naproxen: two drugs that are available over the counter in the United States under the brand names Advil and Aleve. In Denmark, the only NSAID sold without a prescription is ibuprofen in 200 mg tablets, equal to a regular strength Advil in the United States.


Researchers found that 3,376 people with cardiac arrest had taken an NSAID in the 30 days before their cardiovascular event. When they compared this to preceding months without heart problems, they found that filling a prescription for any NSAID raised the risk of cardiac arrest by 31%.

The study wasn’t able to tell exactly how long people took the medication, but average treatment lasts from 13-29 days, the study authors note. “Previous studies have observed enhanced cardiovascular risk associated with less than 30 days of treatment with NSAIDs,” they write.


The results emphasize that these drugs are not harmless, says study author Dr. Gunnar Gislason, professor of cardiology at Copenhagen University Hospital, in a press release. Patients with cardiovascular disease or who are at risk for cardiovascular should probably avoid these medications.

Dr. Christopher O’Connor is the editor-in-chief of the American College of Cardiology journal JACC – Heart Failure. He thinks that Gislason’s last suggestion goes too far. He points out that most cases of cardiac arrest in the study were in elderly people with existing risk factors, not people who were otherwise young and healthy.

The study’s results track with what we already know about NSAIDS. They can cause sodium retention, make blood thicker and create a “small but finite risk” for cardiovascular events.

Be careful when taking nonsteroidals, especially higher doses if you have a cardiovascular disease. Always consult your doctor before starting a medication if you have concerns.

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