Common painkillers such as ibuprofen increase the risk of dying or having a second heart attack among heart attack survivors, researchers have warned.
A study shows that taking the common painkillers can put those who have already had one heart attack at a heightened risk of having another for at least five years.
The findings confirm the potential dangers of taking a group of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs known as NSAIDs.
Previous research found the painkillers are linked to a raised risk of heart attacks or stroke when taken in high doses for a long periods of time.
Study leader Dr Anne-Marie Schjerning Olsen, a fellow in the cardiology department at Copenhagen University Hospital Gentofte in Denmark, said the study involved prescription drugs, but the widespread availability of ibuprofen in pharmacies was a matter for concern.
She said: ‘It is important to get the message out to clinicians taking care of patients with cardiovascular disease that NSAIDs are harmful, even several years after a heart attack.
‘Allowing a drug to be sold without prescription must be perceived by the general public as a strong signal of safety, and may be contrary in this case.’
Millions of Britons with arthritis are prescribed painkillers, including NSAIDs, some of whom have survived heart attacks.
The researchers used national hospital and pharmacy registries in Denmark to identify almost 100,000 people 30 or older who had a first heart attack between 1997 and 2009, and to see if they were prescribed NSAIDs afterwards.
The drugs included ibuprofen, sold over the counter in the UK with the brand name Nurofen, naproxen and Celebrex.
Almost half of the patients collected at least one NSAID prescription, says a report in Circulation, an American Heart Association journal.
Among those receiving an NSAID, risk of death from any cause was 59 per cent higher one year after their heart attack, and 63 per cent higher after five years.
The risk of having another heart attack or dying from coronary artery disease was 30 per cent higher one year later and 41 per cent higher after five years.
The findings considered other illnesses and medication use in the NSAID patients, as well as differences in age, sex, income and year of hospitalisation.
The study did not look at aspirin, which is frequently recommended by doctors to heart attack survivors.
Dr Schjerning Olsen said: ‘The results support previous findings suggesting that NSAIDs have no apparent safe treatment window among heart attack patients, and show that coronary risk related to using the drugs remains high, regardless of the time that has passed since the heart attack.’
Normally, patients who have a heart attack face higher risk of death or another heart attack within the first year. But the extra risk is gone within five to ten years.
Because the new study instead showed a persistently higher risk over at least five years for patients on the drugs, ‘long-term caution with any use of NSAIDS is advised in all patients after heart attack’ said Dr Schjerning Olsen.
Previous research found two non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, (NSAIDs) ibuprofen and diclofenac, could cause heart attacks when taken in high doses.
Ibuprofen is one of the most popular over-the-counter painkillers available from pharmacists and supermarkets – with 46 tons sold here each year.
Maureen Talbot, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), said: ‘This study supports what we already know about these painkillers. The potential risks mean that this type of drug tends to be prescribed with caution and only taken for short periods.
‘It’s always a good idea to make sure you understand what your medication is for and are aware of any possible side effects. If you’ve had a heart attack, make sure you have a chat with your doctor before taking any extra tablets.
‘However, if you’re a heart attack survivor who has been prescribed these painkillers, don’t stop taking your medication. Book an appointment with your GP to talk through any concerns you might have.’