Study Links Painkillers to Higher Death Risk, Second Heart Attacks

A new study has linked painkillers to higher death risks and risks for second heart attacks. The popular pain killers—nonsterodial anti-inflammatory drugs, known as NSAIDs—are used by millions for headaches, minor pain, arthritis, lowering fever, and reducing swelling. NSAIDs include nonprescription aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and naproxen (Aleve); prescription medications include COX-2 inhibitors, such as Celebrex (celecoxib).

Now, said Science Daily, patients who survive a heart attack, experience an increased, long-term risk of death or suffering a second heart attack. The study was published in Circulation, an American Heart Association journal.

“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, said Science Daily.

The team used national hospital and pharmacy registries in Denmark, identifying nearly 100,000 people aged 30 or older, who experienced a first heart attack between 1997 and 2009. The team reviewed the records to determine if patients were prescribed an NSAID following their heart attack, wrote Science Daily.

Of the patients, 44 percent filled at least one NSAID prescription. Of  those, the risk of death—from any cause—increased by 59 percent or more just one year after their heart attack, said Science Daily; after five years, the risk increased to 63 percent. The risk of experiencing another heart attack or dying from coronary artery disease was 30 percent higher one year later, which rose to 41 percent after five years. The study took into account other illnesses and medication use, as well as differences in age, sex, income, and the year in which they were hospitalized; no difference was seen between genders and the findings spanned race, age, income groups, and facilities.

“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, according to Science Daily. In typical heart attack patients, the risk of death or a second heart attack is increased in the first year; however, the additional risk disappears within five to 10 years, noted Science Daily. Schjerning Olsen pointed out that “long-term caution with any use of NSAIDS is advised in all patients after heart attack.”

A statement made in 2007 by the American Heart Association urged physicians to use caution when considering NSAIDs for patients with a history of, or high risk for, cardiovascular disease. “Allowing a drug to be sold without prescription must be perceived by the general public as a strong signal of safety, and may be contrary in this case,” Schjerning Olsen noted said Science Daily.

We recently wrote that another study found a small-to-moderate risk of birth defects in the prenatal use of NSAIDs and that another study that revealed that NSAID use may increase prostate cancer risks. We previously wrote that NSAIDs have long been linked to increased risks of adverse events and were most recently linked to, according to a Harvard research report, increased risks for developing kidney cancer. COX-2 inhibitors including Celebrex, have been linked to increased risks for heart failure, death, and even erectile dysfunction (ED).

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