Common painkiller could increase heart attack risk by 50%, study finds

Common painkiller could increase risk of stroke and heart attack by 50%, study finds 

Common painkiller could increase the risk of stroke and heart attack by 50 percent, new study finds, leading to calls for ban on over-the-counter purchases

  • An over-the-counter and prescribed painkiller is associated with 50% increased risk of heart attack and stroke
  • People who took this drug also had a higher risk of gastrointestinal bleeding
  • Diclofenac was banned over-the-counter in the UK over heart concerns
  • Researchers of the new study say it should only be available for prescription globally 

An over-the-counter painkiller may increase your risk of heart attack or stroke by 50 percent, a new study has found.

The large-scale study of more than 6.3 million adults found that diclofenac, sold in America as Volatren and Solaraze among others, also put patients at higher risks of gastrointestinal bleeding than those on other painkillers.

Diclofenac is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), used to relieve fever or toothache in adults, or severe joint pain in children.

Heart concerns led to British regulators banning the drug over-the-counter in 2015, but the authors of the new study, published today in the British Medical Journal, are now calling for global action to protect patients.  

Heart concerns led to British regulators banning the drug over-the-counter in 2015, but authors of the study, published today in the British Medical Journal, are calling for global action

‘It is time to acknowledge the potential health risk of diclofenac and reduce its use,’ the research team from Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark said.

‘Dicofenac should not be available over the counter, and when prescribed should be accompanied by an appropriate front package warning about its potential risks.’ 

For the study, the team, led by Morten Schmidt, PhD, analyzed national registry data for over 6.3 million Danish adults.

All of these patients had been taking prescription medications for at least a year before the study began in January 1996. 

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The average age of participants taking NSAIDs ranged from 46 years old to 49, and the average age of patients starting paracetamol, another painkiller, was 56.

To analyze the data, the researchers divided the patients into groups depending on their risk of suffering heart woes – low, moderate, and high.

They found that diclofenac was overwhelmingly associated with an increased rate of major heart problems and complications such as irregular heart beat, ischemic stroke, heart failure, and heart attack within 30 days of starting treatment, compared with ibuprofen, naproxen or paracetamol.

With each year they stayed on diclofenac, their risk increased – markedly compared to those on other drugs, and those on no drugs at all.  

Patients who started the study with a low risk, then took diclofenac, had on average one more heart attack or stroke compared to those who took ibufrofen. 

It was the same compared to those taking naproxen.

Compared to those taking paracetamol, diclofenac takers had three more heart attacks or strokes.

Those who took no drugs at all fared the best: they had four fewer heart attacks or strokes, on average, compared to those on diclofenac.

This increased risk affected men and women of all ages alike. Even patients on a low doses of had an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. 

Although some patients may need NSAIDs to improve their quality of life, ‘despite potential side effects,’ diclofenac may not be the best option. 

In fact, researchers said the health concerns associated with this drug must be addressed now. 

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