Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are staples in the medicine cabinet as widely used over-the-counter medications for relieving pain or addressing fever. However, a new study pinpoints the routine use of these drugs as potentially boosting one's chances of suffering a heart attack.

The new research found that all prevalent NSAIDs, from OTCs ibuprofen and naproxen to prescription-based diclofenac and celecoxib, were linked to the heart attack risk, despite the absolute risk being very small.

Findings Of New NSAID Study

The findings opened the discussion on how to be cautious of habitual use of NSAIDs, especially among those who are already facing elevated chances of heart troubles.

The team of researchers conducted a systematic review as well as a meta-analysis of studies from databases in Canada, United Kingdom, and Finland. They probed a total of 446,763 individuals, 61,460 of whom had already experienced a heart attack.

According to the results, there was a greater heart attack risk as soon as the first week of taking NSAIDs, and such risk elevated with higher doses.

The most pronounced risk too was detected in those using NSAIDs at a high everyday dose in the first month. The high daily doses included more than 1,200 mg of ibuprofen, more than 750 mg of naproxen, more than 100 mg of diclofenac, and more than 200 mg of celecoxib.

"There is a perception that naproxen has the lowest cardiovascular risk (among the NSAIDs), but that's not true,” said lead researcher and epidemiologist Dr. Michèle Bally.

There was a 20 to 50 percent climb in heart attack risk in general with NSAID use versus those not taking the medications.

Implications And Warnings On NSAID Use

The team clarified, though, that the results were observational and only made an association, not a direct link between the drugs and heart attack.

Dr. Deepak Bhatt of Brigham and Women’s Hospital told CBS News that the absolute risk remains very small and will change according to individual baseline risk. Due to the increased risk, Bhatt explained, the average heart attack risk due to NSAIDs is around 1 percent every year.

The team suggested weighing the potential benefits and risks whether one is a doctor or patient before using the drugs as a treatment option. Bally pointed to the drugs’ OTC nature and people’s lack of inclination to read labels as potential issues.

Bhatt, who wasn’t involved in the research, deemed the study as “another cautionary tale” for one to carefully decide on using the drugs. For pain relief, for instance, the expert advised using the lowest possible dose and for the shortest time frame possible.

The risk could also depend on the NSAID user, he proceeded. A young, healthy person using a NSAID for a sprained ankle would have a very low risk, while an elderly with high blood pressure could have a substantial one.

NSAIDs are commonly used for relieving pain from various sources, including headaches, back pain, and menstrual cramps. In previous research, this type of painkillers was seen to up the risk of heart attack, or myocardial infarction.

Back in 2015 too, the FDA urged drug manufacturers to update warning labels to cite an increased heart attack or stroke risk.

Cardiovascular disease remains the top killer worldwide, warned the World Health Organization (WHO), with 80 percent of all mortalities from this condition due to strokes and heart attacks. In the United States, about 735,000 every year suffer a heart attack.

The findings were detailed in the journal BMJ.

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