Popular Painkillers May Increase Risk for Patients with Heart Problems: Study

People with hypertension and heart problems who regularly take common over-the-counter painkillers could be at a greater risk of heart attack, stroke and death, according to the findings of a new study.

Patients with heart disease and high blood pressure were at an overall 47% increased risk of the cardiovascular events if they were chronic users of a class of painkillers known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which include many popular medications, such as Advil, Aleve, Celebrex, Motrin and the recalled drug Vioxx.

Researchers from the University of Florida discovered that the risk was not due to elevated blood pressure caused by NSAID use, which many experts thought would be the cause of painkiller heart problems. The findings were published in the latest issue of The American Journal of Medicine.

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The study looked at data on 882 long-term NSAID users and 21,694 nonchronic NSAID users. All had hypertension and heart disease and had an average age of 65. Researchers found that 4.4 out of every 100 chronic NSAID users suffered a nonfatal heart attack, nonfatal stroke, or died. The rate was only 3.7 out of 100 for nonchronic NSAID users.

After five years of chronic NSAID use, high blood pressure patients with heart disease were at 126% increased risk of death and 66% increased risk of heart attack.

Researchers did not find the cause for the increased mortality, heart attack and stroke rates. Elevated blood pressure, which had been the expected culprit, was actually lower in chronic NSAID users. The scientists suggested alternative means of pain relief for such patients until further research is conducted.

The study was published less than a month after Danish researchers released a study that found that NSAIDs could cause abnormal heart rhythms. That study, published in the British Medical Journal, found a 40% to 70% increase in the risk of atrial fibrillation among NDAID users.

In January, European researchers found that all NSAIDs appeared to increase the risk of heart problems, and all except Aleve carried an increased risk of cardiovascular death.

In June 2010, a different group of Danish researchers published a study that again found evidence of NSAID heart problems, with the recalled drug Vioxx, as well as Voltaren and Cataflam being linked to the highest risk of death due to cardiovascular problems.

Voltaren and Cataflam were also associated with double the risk of heart attack, while Vioxx was linked to triple the increased risk.

Lawsuits over Vioxx were filed by tens of thousands of people following a September 2004 recall of the drug amid reports that it increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes. The prescription medication, which was approved for treatment of chronic pain from arthritis and other conditions that cause acute pain, was used by more than 80 million people worldwide. Merck & Co., the manufacturer of Vioxx, reached a $4.85 billion settlement with about 50,000 plaintiffs to resolve the Vioxx litigation in 2008.

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  • TommyJuly 18, 2011 at 11:41 pm

    I received a large sum in settlement from the Vioxx suit. The hurt and anguish still is with me....money did not help! Tom

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