Taking over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen may increase your risk of death from cardiac arrest. A new study from researchers in Denmark found a connection between nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and fatal heart problems.
According to the study author, Dr. Gunnar Gislason, “NSAIDs are not harmless.”
The findings indicated a 31 percent increased threat of cardiac arrest for people taking ibuprofen. An astounding 50 percent increase in risk was associated with another NSAID commonly known as diclofenac.
“Diclofenac and ibuprofen, both commonly used drugs, were associated with significantly increased risk of cardiac arrest,” stated Gislason, as cited by the Huffington Post. “Over-the-counter NSAIDs should only be available at pharmacies, in limited quantities, and in low doses.”
The study examined the medical data of nearly 29,000 patients who suffered a cardiac arrest over a 10-year period. Since most NSAIDs require a prescription in Denmark, the researchers were able to look at whether the patient was prescribed pain medication within 30 days prior to the cardiac arrest.
Their findings showed an association between NSAIDs and cardiac arrest but could not prove the painkillers directly caused the heart problem. However, Gislason believes anyone with a heart problem should avoid the medications.
“NSAIDs should be used with caution and for a valid indication,” Dr. Gislason noted, as reported by the Guardian. “They should probably be avoided in patients with cardiovascular disease or many cardiovascular risk factors.”
For anyone without a heart condition, the NSAID report recommends a limit of 1,200 milligrams of ibuprofen per day. Also included is a suggestion not to sell ibuprofen at grocery stores and gas stations as most people assume the drugs can be used haphazardly without consequence.
Even though the researchers could not identify exactly how NSAIDs might cause cardiac arrest and other cardiovascular system problems, they guessed that these types of medications encourage platelet accumulation and blood clot development. Also, they speculate that NSAIDs constrict arteries, promote fluid retention, and increase blood pressure.
While other NSAIDs naproxen, celecoxib, and rofecoxib were included in the study, these pain relievers did not seem to increase the risk of cardiac arrest. The researchers speculate the lack of risk is likely because these medications are not used as often as ibuprofen and diclofenac.
This new study is supported by previous research which suggests NSAIDs are related to heart problems. As revealed by the Guardian last year, an earlier study involving 10 million patient records from different parts of Europe found an increased risk of heart failure associated with these types of pain relievers.
In 2014, the Therapeutic Goods Administration found that NSAIDs are safe, but only if used per the label’s instructions. The agency said taking more than the recommended dosage could “pose a significant health risk” and told healthcare providers not to prescribe the pain relievers to patients with heart problems.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has also warned consumers about the dangers of taking NSAIDs above the recommended amount. People should only take the minimum dosage for a short period of time, and anyone with high blood pressure and heart disease should only take them under advice from a doctor, the agency cautioned.
The Proprietary Association of Great Britain, an organization that represents the interests of the over-the-counter medicine industry, says the study does not provide enough evidence to link common NSAIDs as the cause of cardiac arrests. Chief executive John Smith cautioned against making any conclusions about the report and said as long as people use ibuprofen or other over-the-counter medication as instructed, they are effective and perfectly safe to use.
Even though the study was unable to definitively say NSAIDs lead to cardiac arrest, the report is a reminder to discuss all pain treatment options with a doctor before taking any medication. The NSAID study linking ibuprofen and cardiac arrest was published in the European Heart Journal.
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