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Warning for heart attack survivors: Common pain drugs could kill

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Pain medications could boost risk of 2nd heart attack, finds new study.

Patients who have survived heart attack and take common pain killing drugs known as NSAIDs could be facing risk of a second heart attack and even death, finds a new study.

Results of the new study, published in Circulation, an American Heart Association journal, should serve as a warning to patients and their health care providers of the dangers for heart patients who take NSAIDs or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

Examples include ibuprofen, naproxen and the prescription drug celecoxib, all of which are medications commonly taken for arthritis and pain relief from injuries.

Anne-Marie Schjerning Olsen,M.D., lead study author and a fellow in the cardiology department at Copenhagen University Hospital Gentofte in Denmark said in a press release that the common pain medications could be risky for years following a heart attack.

For the study, the researchers looked at national hospital and pharmacy registries in Denmark. They found almost 100,000 people age 30 or above who had their first heart attack between 1997 and 2009. They then looked to see if NSAID’s were prescribed.

Among the 44% who had been prescribed NSAID’s, the risk of dying from any cause was 59% one year after their heart attack occurred.

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The chance of dying from coronary artery disease or having another heart attack was 30% higher from non-steroidal anti-inflammatory use. After 5 years the risk rose to 41%.

Normally, the risk of a second heart attack and death subsides within 5 to 10 years. Because the study showed a higher risk associated with NSAID use, “...long-term caution with any use of NSAIDS is advised in all patients after heart attack,” Schjerning Olsen said.

The study shows medications that can be purchased over the counter may not be safe, especially for heart patients. Schjerning Olsen said it might mean availability without prescription might need to be re-evaluated.

"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," she said. It's also important to note that the FDA warns ibuprofen can interfere with the effectiveness of aspirin that is commonly used to prevent blood clots for patients with coronary artery disease.

It’s not known how the common pain medications raise the risk of second heart attack, death from heart disease or any cause. Because the study is observational, the researchers are cautious to point out there could be other factors that contributed to the finding, though they suspect NSAIDs were the culprit for the higher risk. The study also shows how important it is to let your doctor know about all medications you're taking, even if they are available without a prescription.

American Heart Association
September 10, 2012

"Information for Healthcare Professionals: Concomitant Use of Ibuprofen and Aspirin"

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