A large-scale study conducted in 2017 originally indicated that common painkillers like ibuprofen and naproxen are considered risky for people who have had heart attacks; additional research has demonstrated that the risk can begin within the first week of usage.
The initial study involved NSAIDs: non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, including ibuprofen—generically known under its brand names Advil and/or Motrin. Researchers at McGill University pooled extensive studies and clinical research on NSAIDs and heart attacks, using a data pool of over 446,000 people who used the drugs, including 385,000 participants who did not have heart attacks.
The report, published in the British Medical Journal, stated that current use of a NSAID is “associated with a significantly increased risk of acute myocardial infarction,” the medical terminology for a heart attack. Moreover, the risk began within a week of usage. The data demonstrated that those who used NSAIDs were more likely to have a repeat heart attack, or die within the next 5 years. In the first year post-heart attack, 20 percent of NSAID users died, compared to approximately 12 percent of non-users. The death rate of NSAID users remained about double than that of non-users in the next few years.
A number of studies have consistently revealed similar patterns concerning NSAIDs and heart disease, coupled with biological reasons that NSAIDs could be risky for people with heart disease. Evidence suggests that the drugs may impact and affect blood clotting, blood vessel function, and blood pressure. Because NSAIDs are available over the counter, many patients and consumers believe that there is no inherent danger involved.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has already added ‘black box warnings’ to NSAIDs, warning people with higher risks for heart disease and blood pressure to avoid using them without the recommendation of a physician. Dr. Gordan Tomaselli, chief of cardiology at Johns Hopkins University, advises: “if you’ve ever had a heart attack, you should use NSAIDs with caution.”
More recent research has indicated that for patients with osteoarthritis, NSAIDs increase the risk for cardiovascular disease to more than twice the rate of the general population. “There’s no cure for people with osteoarthritis, and you have to treat the pain. But when you treat it with NSAIDs, you increase cardiovascular risk,” said Aslam Anis, PhD, from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.