Pain Relievers for Acute Respiratory Infections Linked to Heart Attack Risk: Study

Treating colds or acute respiratory infections with popular pain relievers, such as Advil or Motrin, may increase an individual’s risk of suffering a heart attack, according to the findings of new research. 

In a new study published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, researchers warn that doctors should be careful when directing patients to use these medications, and indicate that individuals should avoid taking them when they have the flu or a cold, due to the increased heart attack risk they may face.

Researchers from National Taiwan University examined data from Taiwan’s National Health Insurance Program from 2005 to 2011. It included data from 10,000 patients hospitalized for a heart attack. They compared a patient’s risk for heart attack across episodes of respiratory illness and use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

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The study indicated using NSAIDs, like Advil, Motrin or Aleve, may increase the risk of heart attack when used during a cold or flu. Similar research from 2015 concluded NSAIDs were linked to increased bleeding after heart attack.

Using NSAIDs during acute repository infection, like a cold, was associated with a 3.4-fold increased risk for heart attack. It was also associated with 7.2 times greater risk when patients received the NSAID intravenously in the hospital.

Researchers noted that the heart attack risk among patients who had a cold or flu and were not taking an NSAID was 2.7 times greater. The risk was 1.5 times greater when people took NSAIDs and did not have a respiratory infection. The association was strongest for heart attack when both risk factors, NSAID use and respiratory illness, were present.

Other research has shown a link between respiratory infection and NSAID use as triggers for heart problems, but the studies examined the risk factors separately. One study from 2014 linked NSAID use to increased atrial fibrillation.

The risk is especially important considering NSAIDs are often included in many cold and flu drugs in combination with other cold medications. Researchers said using Tylenol may be a safer alternative. Another study published last year indicated NSAIDs like Motrin and Advil were linked to increased risk of heart failure.

They emphasize the results of the study does not prove a cause and effect relationship.

“Physicians should be aware that the use of NSAIDs during an acute respiratory infection might further increase the risk of a heart attack,” Dr. Cheng-Chung Fang, lead author of the study, said in a press release.


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