Health & Stats: Anti-Inflammatory Drugs may lead to Heart Problems

Further doubts have been cast on the long-term safety of commonly used 'anti-inflammatory' drugs such as 'Ibuprofen' and 'Diclofenac' following the publication of Danish research showing that survivors of heart attacks prescribed them are more likely to die prematurely. The Danish researchers followed 60_000 heart-attack survivors after they were discharged from hospital and found that the death rate during the study among those subsequently prescribed 'anti-inflammatories' to be much higher. Those prescribed 'Diclofenac' (such as 'Voltarol'), one of the most widely used 'anti-inflammatories' in the UK, were almost four times more likely to die, while those taking 'Ibuprofen' (such as 'Nurofen') were almost twice as likely to die. The reason for the extra deaths remains unclear, but any link between anti-inflammatories and heart disease is very important because of the numbers involved: there are at least a million survivors of heart attacks in the UK, and one in three of the rest of us will eventually develop heart disease at some stage. Add in 30 million or so prescriptions a year for 'anti-inflammatories', and the huge market for over-the-counter 'Ibuprofen', and it is easy to see why the link needs to be taken seriously. Of course, it may have nothing to do with the drugs themselves. They could simply be an indicator of a link between heart disease and underlying arthritis -- the reason many of the patients were taking the drugs. Many physicians are convinced that the inflammation associated with arthritis can predispose to heart attack by making the blood 'stickier'. Research is ongoing. Until such time as the link with the drugs, or the underlying arthritis, is better understood, it makes sense to err on the side of caution, and think twice before using anti-inflammatories, particularly in people who are at significant risk of heart disease. People at risk include those who already have heart trouble, high blood pressure, diabetes or abnormal 'cholesterol' levels, as well as smokers and the obese. For most people with arthritis, the added risk of dying from heart disease may be a price that they feel worth paying for the day-to-day relief offered by the drugs. Most anti-inflammatories aren't taken to treat arthritis; they are used for simple pain relief for everything from backache and sprained ankles, to headaches and hangovers -- conditions where safer options, such as 'Paracetamol'- and 'Codeine'- based painkillers, are likely to work just as well. There is no need to panic -- no-one should stop taking their pills on the basis of this new research -- but the study is a useful prompt for doctors and the public, to balance the benefits against the risks and reconsider whether an anti-inflammatory is necessarily the best option to treat any diagnosed pain. 'Think before you use anti-inflammatories', Mark Porter, The Scotsman, 2005-12-13


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe it is not the antiinflamatory drugs causing heart disease, maybe the type of person to get heart disease is also the type of person to need antiinflamatory drugs.

12/20/2005 07:59:00 am  

Post a Comment

<< Home