Common painkillers such as ibuprofen and naproxen are already known to raise people’s risk of a heart attack. Now a new study shows the risk comes within the first week of using the drugs.
The study doesn’t mean that everyone should avoid taking the pills to treat headaches, lower fevers and reduce aches and pains, but does suggest people who know they have a bigger-than-average heart attack risk should avoid long-term use and high doses, the researchers said.
The study involves drugs called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDS for short. They include ibuprofen, sold under brand names like Advil or Motrin; naproxen, like Aleve; as well as prescription arthritis drugs known as COX-2 inhibitors, such as Celebrex.
Tylenol, known generically as acetaminophen, is not an NSAID. The researchers did not look at aspirin, another NSAID commonly prescribed to lower heart attack risk that works in a slightly different manner.
The study also looked at Vioxx, a prescription drug pulled from the market in 2004 after it was shown to raise the risk of strokes and heart attacks.
Michèle Bally of McGill University and colleagues pooled all the studies they could find on NSAIDs and heart attacks. They settled on data covering 446,000 people using NSAIDs, including 385,000 who did not have heart attacks, known medically as myocardial infarctions.
“By studying 61,460 myocardial infarction events in real-world use of NSAIDs, we found that current use of a NSAID is associated with a significantly increased risk of acute myocardial infarction,” they wrote in their report, published in the British Medical Journal.
The risk started within a week and it did not grow with longer use, they found. But the study doesn’t show just how much someone’s risk of having a heart attack is increased.
“This was observed for all traditional NSAIDs, including naproxen,” they added.