In as little as a week, popular meds can boost heart attack risk

By Laura Mize • Published: August 18th, 2017
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Perhaps you’ve heard that an aspirin a day can help keep the doctor away. If so, you may wish to reconsider. A new study published in the British Medical Journal reports that using some nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, including aspirin-rivals ibuprofen and naproxen, can increase the risk of heart attack, sometimes in as little as a week.

Researchers analyzed data from eight previous studies on the topic, involving nearly 450,000 people in Canadian or European health care databases. They found an elevated risk of heart attack among patients who were taking such medications, called NSAIDs, for at least a week, compared with people without any NSAID use for at least a year prior. Higher doses of the drugs boosted the risk more than lower doses did.

Using more than 1,200 milligrams a day of ibuprofen and 750 milligrams a day of naproxen was especially dangerous.

The researchers noted the results do not mean people should stop taking the medicine for headaches, fever and normal aches and pain. But those who already have a higher risk for heart attack should avoid long-term use and high doses. For a person with excellent heart health and a low risk of heart attack, a slight increase in risk brought on by NSAID use is not a big threat.

The Food and Drug Administration has added notices to NSAIDs, warning those with heart disease or high blood pressure to avoid using them without checking with a doctor.

A well-rounded approach to pain management is always best over the long term. Engaging in healthful, doctor-approved physical activity, using heat and cold therapy and monitoring diet can help in many cases.