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Ibuprofen Linked to Heightened Risk for Cardiac Arrest

Using ibuprofen and other common painkillers puts users at an increased risk for heart attacks, according to a new Danish study.

The study links certain members of a class of common painkillers known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) with a greater risk of an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest. The findings were published in December 2016 in European Heart Journal—Cardiovascular Pharmacotherapy.

Common NSAIDs include ibuprofen and diclofenac. Over-the-counter brand name versions of ibuprofen include Advil and Motrin, while diclofenac is only available by prescription in the U.S.  

The study found that diclofenac was linked to a 50% greater risk of heart attack and ibuprofen was associated with a 31% greater risk. The study did not find any association between cardiac arrest and the NSAID naproxen, which is the active ingredient in Aleve.

It had already been established by numerous studies that the drugs are associated with negative cardiovascular events, putting users at greater risk for myocardial infection and stroke. In describing their goals going into the study, the researchers write that “the association between NSAIDs and cardiac arrest has never been investigated” and that “it remains to be established, whether use of NSAIDs is associated with cardiac arrest.”

While these medications are generally available without a prescription in the U.S., the only NSAID available over-the-counter in Denmark is low dosage (200-mg) ibuprofen, equal to a standard issue Advil pill, and it is only sold in small packages (maximum 200 tablets). Because most NSAIDs are sold by prescription in Denmark, researchers were able to track use of the drugs since 1995 and compare them with the medical of records of people who had an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest between 2001 and 2010.

The study’s authors note that ibuprofen was the most commonly prescribed NSAID, making up just over half of the total number of NSAID scripts filled by patients.

Our findings support the accumulating evidence of an unfavorable cardiovascular risk profile associated with use of the non-selective NSAIDs. This calls for special awareness in order to balance risks against benefits in treatment with NSAIDs,” the authors write in the report’s conclusion.

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