If you take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for minor aches and pains, you may be putting yourself at risk for cardiovascular disease.  At least that's what researchers say in a new report published in the July issue of Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes. Could you be at risk?  Read on to find out.

According to The National Institutes of Health (NIH) people who take NSAIDs (other than aspirin) may have a higher risk of having a heart attack or a stroke than people who do not take these medications. These events may happen without warning and may cause death. Furthermore, the risk may be higher for people who take NSAIDs for a long time.

The American Heart Association and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) already warn people with heart disease that taking NSAIDS may increase risk for cardiac problems. This new study, however, says that even people with healthy hearts have increased cardiovascular risk if they take ibuprofen, diclofenac, and rofecoxib. These commonly prescribed NSAIDS are typically used for arthritis, migraines and chronic pain. 

The study took place between 1997 and 2005 in Denmark and included analysis of medical records for more than 1 million people.  The study's lead author, Emil L. Fosbol, MD, a cardiologist at Gentofte University Hospital in Hellerup said, "This study is the first to confirm that the cardiovascular risk is indeed increased when healthy individuals use some of the drugs. The risks for different NSAIDs ... varied widely. Participants, whose average age was 39, who used ibuprofen had a 29 percent greater risk of fatal or nonfatal stroke, compared to those who took no NSAID. Use of diclofenac was associated with a 91 percent higher risk of death from all cardiovascular diseases, while rofecoxib use was associated with a 66 percent increased risk." These findings are consistent with earlier studies that confirmed increased cardiovascular risk for patients taking NSAIDS who already had cardiac disease.

NSAIDS are often the pain reliever of choice for active healthy people.  They get sore muscles from a good healthy workout and pop a few ibuprofen; never realizing they may be doing more harm to their cardiovascular system than good.  Regular use of NSAIDS also increases risk for bleeding problems, a known side effect.  In support of that fact, the Danish study found an increased incidence of major bleeding events, some fatal, from all NSAIDs except celecoxib. Celecoxib did not appear to raise the risk of coronary death or stroke either.

Are any NSAIDs safe? The study found no increased risk of cardiovascular problems (and actually a slightly lower risk) associated with naproxen.  They also found that relatively low doses of ibuprofen (less than 1200 mg per day) did not increase cardiovascular risks.  What if you need more than that? Consider taking naproxen or acetaminophen and talk to your doctor about your health and cardiovascular disease risk factors.


USA Today - Common pain relievers raise heart risk for healthy people
By Ed Edelson, HealthDay

Circulation:  Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes
American Heart Association
Published online June 8, 2010

PubMed Health
National Institutes of Health