Researchers advise avoiding diclofenac and limiting ibuprofen to 1200 mg per day.
Painkillers considered harmless by the general public are associated with increased risk of cardiac arrest, according to research published today in the March issue of European Heart Journal – Cardiovascular Pharmacotherapy.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are among the most commonly used drugs worldwide and some, including ibuprofen, are available over the counter.
“Allowing these drugs to be purchased without a prescription, and without any advice or restrictions, sends a message to the public that they must be safe,” said author Professor Gunnar H. Gislason, professor of cardiology at Copenhagen University Hospital Gentofte, Denmark. “Previous studies have shown that NSAIDs are related to increased cardiovascular risk which is a concern because they are widely used.”
Use of any NSAID was associated with a 31% increased risk of cardiac arrest. Diclofenac and ibuprofen were associated with a 50% and 31% increased risk, respectively. Naproxen, celecoxib and rofecoxib were not associated with the occurrence of cardiac arrest, probably due to a low number of events.
“The findings are a stark reminder that NSAIDs are not harmless,” said Professor Gislason. “Diclofenac and ibuprofen, both commonly used drugs, were associated with significantly increased risk of cardiac arrest. NSAIDs should be used with caution and for a valid indication. They should probably be avoided in patients with cardiovascular disease or many cardiovascular risk factors.”
“Do not take more than 1200 mg of ibuprofen per day,” he continued. “Naproxen is probably the safest NSAID and we can take up to 500 mg a day. Diclofenac is the riskiest NSAID and should be avoided by patients with cardiovascular disease and the general population. Safer drugs are available that have similar painkilling effects so there is no reason to use diclofenac.”
Professor Gislason concluded: “The current message being sent to the public about NSAIDs is wrong. If you can buy these drugs in a convenience store then you probably think ‘they must be safe for me’. Our study adds to the evidence about the adverse cardiovascular effects of NSAIDs and confirms that they should be taken seriously, and used only after consulting a healthcare professional.”