Commonly Prescribed Painkillers Could Pose Risk to Heart Patients
By on September 11th, 2012

New research coming out of Denmark shows that commonly prescribed pain medications could pose a high risk to survivors of a heart attack, and possibly cause death. The research was published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation


Ibuprofen (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The class of painkillers is known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). This group includes a widely used over-the-counter medicine called Ibuprofen, otherwise known as the brand name Advil. According to the study, the American Heart Association had already published warnings back in 2007 against the use of NSAIDs in people with heart disease. Despite warnings, doctors still prescribed NSAIDs, albeit for shorter periods of time. The study points out that even short treatments are a high risk for those who have suffered heart attacks.

“It is important to get the message out to clinicians taking care of patients with cardiovascular disease that NSAIDs are harmful, even several years after a heart attack,” said Anne-Marie Schjerning Olsen, M.D., the study’s lead author and a fellow in the cardiology department at Copenhagen University Hospital Gentofte in Denmark.

The study focused on nearly 100,000 patients 30 or older who had a first heart attack between 1997 and 2009. The data was gathered from hospital and pharmacy registries in Denmark. They checked to see if the patients had been prescribed NSAIDs after their heart attack. 44% of the patients had been prescribed at least one NSAID. Here is the scary part. Among those who took an NSAID, the risk of death rose 59% one year after their heart attack. The death risk was 63% higher after the 5 year mark. This is surprising because typically the risk of heart attacks go down after the first year.

“The results support previous findings suggesting that NSAIDs have no apparent safe treatment window among heart attack patients, and show that coronary risk related to using the drugs remains high, regardless of the time that has passed since the heart attack,” Schjerning Olsen said.

The risk was equal to both genders, as well as, racial and socioeconomic boundaries. It should be noted however, that this study did not test NSAIDs in a controlled manner, but the evidence seem to overwhelmingly point their way. The real danger is that these NSAIDs are easily attainable over the counter and they do not carry strong warnings. Generally when medicine doesn’t require a prescription, the general public deems it as safe, which may not be the case in this instance.

For more information, follow @CircAHA on Twitter.

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Author: Darrin Jenkins Google Profile for Darrin Jenkins
Darrin is an IT manager for a large electrical contractor in Louisville KY. He is married and has 3 kids. He loves helping people with their technology needs. He runs a blog called Say Geek!

Darrin Jenkins has written and can be contacted at

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