Common Pain Relievers Linked to Heart Deaths

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For the first time, some commonly-used pain relievers have been linked by significant clinical evidence to a higher risk of heart-related deaths in otherwise healthy people.

The nine-year Danish study looked at non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, including ibuprofen, which was associated with a 29 percent greater risk of fatal or non-fatal stroke.

The group of drugs examined is known as NSAIDs, which are commonly prescribed to people suffering from arthritis or inflammation due to short-term conditions.

The study, published in the American Heart Association's journal, "Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes," focused on the drugs ibuprofen, diclofenac, rofecoxib, celecoxib and naproxen.

Study authors said they had been unable to determine the risks of celecoxib based on the results of their research. Naproxen - sold over the counter under brand names including "Alleve," was actually linked to a decreased risk in heart failures.

"Even though the frequency of these effects is quite low, they are still important," said Emil Loldrup Fosbøl, the study's author. "People should at a minimum be aware that this is a problem."

For individuals taking NSAIDs who are at a greater risk of stroke, the American Heart Association's advice is "a stepped-care approach to pain management," which recommends doctors only opt for the higher-risk medications after first demonstrating lower-risk drugs are ineffective.

The study reinforces advice given by the American Heart Association (AHA) in 2007 which advised doctors of a link between NSAIDs and heart failure.

"I find this new study reassuring because it endorses the recommendations we made using a large body of actual clinical evidence," said Elliott M. Antman, a professor at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston who wrote the AHA statement.

"Doses examined in this new study were very similar to doses that patients are likely to encounter both at the over-the-counter level (OTC) and the prescription level," added Antman. "For patients regularly taking an NSAID now - whether it's a prescription or OTC - it is advisable to discuss with your physician why it was originally recommended or prescribed, whether you need to continue taking it, and at what dose."