The next time you reach for an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen, consider this: These common painkillers, also called NSAIDs, can be associated with the risk of heart attack.
That’s according to a new study published in The BMJ (formerly British Medical Journal), which says taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, even for one week may increase your chances of an event.
But before you start cleaning out your medicine cabinet, here’s what you should know.
NSAIDs have some risks
In 2015, the Food and Drug Administration cautioned that taking NSAIDs could increase a person’s risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
Dr. David Bohle of Novant Health Cardiology in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, mentioned this as well.
“We know that there is some increase in risk of a heart attack with using NSAIDs,” Bohle said. “But the new study doesn’t really change much about what we already know. The study focuses on high-dose medications that we don’t usually prescribe. A common dose of ibuprofen is around 200 milligrams taken two to three times per day. This study focuses on 1,200- to 1,600-milligram doses of ibuprofen.”
He said that if you look at 100 people, maybe one person could be at a higher risk of a heart attack by taking NSAIDs.
“If someone has a known history of heart disease or a history of heart attacks, they should use these drugs with caution and with their provider’s guidance to make sure they won’t have any complications,” Bohle said.
Discuss NSAID use with your doctor
Although the BMJ study links NSAIDs with an increased risk of heart attack, the study does not say the drugs could directly cause an episode.
“Anytime you look at a lot of data, you need to take it with a grain of salt,” Bohle said. “Some of the medication they included in this study isn’t even on the market anymore. Using NSAIDs for short-term pain relief is not a significant risk, but if someone has concerns about using NSAIDs or a history of heart attack, they should discuss this with their primary care provider or their cardiologist.”
He also said this study doesn’t address some of the other factors that could increase someone’s risk of having a heart attack. “Overweight patients with back and joint problems or unhealthier patients with chronic pain are not only more likely to take NSAIDs, but they are also more likely to have cardiac events,” Bohle said.
How's your heart health?
Novant Health has launched a community-wide campaign called the 10,000 Healthy Hearts Challenge with a goal to educate 10,000 people about their heart health by 2018. Take the online heart health risk assessment, which analyzes cardiovascular risk factors, such as blood pressure, cigarette smoking, diabetes and body mass index. Then, tag five friends on social media using #NHHealthyHearts to spread the word.
Once you accept the challenge, look for helpful wellness tips, recipe ideas and stress management reminders sent to your inbox to manage your heart health.