The Painkillers That May Increase The Risk of Heart Disease

A large study on 10 million people reveals the risk of traditional painkillers.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are often taken to reduce flu symptoms, such as fever, and ease mild to moderate pain including migraine, toothache, period pain, muscles ache, strains and rheumatoid arthritis.

However, these popular painkillers have been linked to a 20% higher risk of heart failure:

  • ibuprofen,
  • diclofenac,
  • ketorolac,
  • indomethacin,
  • naproxen,
  • piroxicam,
  • nimesulide,
  • and possibly nabumetone.

The risk for heart failure doubled for those taking the following at very high doses:

  • etoricoxib,
  • rofecoxib,
  • diclofenac,
  • indomethacin,
  • and piroxicam.

These are anti-inflammatory drugs used to treat painful conditions like arthritis.

They help reduce  stiffness, swelling and pain.

Taking these common pain killers over a long period most likely causes chemical reactions which puts strain on the heart and so increases the chance of heart attacks and stroke.

However, the study suggests that the risk varies between drugs and depends on dosage.


Ms Helen Williams, Consultant Pharmacist for Cardiovascular Disease at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said:

“People regularly purchasing NSAIDs over the counter, such as ibuprofen, should seek advice from their pharmacist or doctor.

People needing treatment with long-term or frequent short courses of NSAIDs do need careful monitoring, such as kidney checks and should be regularly assessed to ensure the on-going suitability of NSAID therapy for them.”

Professor Stephen Evans, at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said:

“The absolute risk is suggested to be about 37.5 admissions for heart failure per 10,000 person years.

Because of the study design, it is possible that this is an over-estimate but it is of the right order of magnitude.

The rate of admission increases dramatically with age and it is important to remember the average age of the people studied here was 77 years.”

The study was published in the British Medical Journal (Arfè et al., 2016).

 Painkillers image from Shutterstock