Common painkillers, such as ibuprofen and naproxen, may raise a person’s risk for heart attack, according to a new study published in the journal BMJ.
This new research adds to the growing body evidence that shows non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be more harmful than most people believe.
While NSAIDs are considered safe when used as directed, more and more people are relying on them for long-term use and taking them at high doses. That can cause problems and lead to certain health complications.
In the recent study, researchers from the University of Montreal found that not only does heavy painkiller use come with health risks, those problems can start just a few days after taking the pills.
To make this discovery, the team gathered data from various studies on painkillers and their health effects. This allowed them to analyze more than 446,000 people who used non-prescription painkillers. Roughly 61,000 of the subjects had a heart attack, and those who relied on the pills had a 20 to 50 percent greater chance of suffering from a heart attack than those who did not, TIME reports.
The increased risk began just after a week of taking NSAIDs and the highest risk occurred in the subjects who took the drugs for a month. After that time, the risk did not increase further.
“We found that all common NSAIDs shared a heightened risk of heart attack,” said lead author Michèle Bally, an epidemiologist at the University of Montreal Hospital Research Center, according to CNN. “There is a perception that naproxen has the lowest cardiovascular risk (among the NSAIDs), but that’s not true.”
This data builds on earlier studies that have linked heart problems to NSAIDs. However, this data is even more convincing because of how many people it looked at over time. Not only did the team have a large sample, they also accounted for other possible factors that could connect NSAID users and heart problems, such as diabetes, high cholesterol levels, and a previous history of heart disease. Even after those adjustments, the link remained significant.
Though the study is observational — meaning that definitive conclusions cannot be made about cause and effect — it is the largest investigation into the link between heart attacks and NSAID use. Researchers hope the paper will cause people to be more aware of the risks that come with painkillers and allow doctors to make better decisions about how to treat their patients.
“Given that the onset of risk of acute myocardial infarction occurred in the first week and appeared greatest in the first month of treatment with higher doses, prescribers should consider weighing the risks and benefits of NSAIDs before instituting treatment, particularly for higher doses,” the team concluded in the study.