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Commonly used painkillers such as Motrin, Advil and Aleve might increase your risk for heart attack, even in the first week of use, a new study suggests.  Overall, these drugs and others known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) increase the risk of a heart attack by 20 to 50 percent, compared with not using them, researchers found.

The study, published in The BMJ, found that all commonly used NSAIDs – ibuprofen and naproxen, which are available over the counter, and diclofenac and celecoxib, which require prescriptions in the U.S. – were associated with this increased risk.  While the absolute risk of having a heart attack after taking this medication is very small, experts say consumers should exercise caution when deciding whether or not take NSAIDs, particularly people who are already at risk for heart trouble.

Previous research has showed that this class of painkillers could increase the risk of having a heart attack, known as myocardial infarction.  In 2015, the US Food and Drug Administration called on drugmakers to update their warning labels to identify an increased risk of a heart attack or stroke. Cardiovascular diseases are the No. 1 cause of death globally, according to the World Health Organization, with 80% of all deaths in this category due to heart attacks and strokes.  Each year, it’s estimated that 735,000 people in the United States have a heart attack.

Lead researcher Michele Bally stated that “from the viewpoint of public health, even small increases in risk of heart attack are important because use of NSAIDs is so widespread”.  She said that NSAIDs are widely used to treat pain and inflammation from long-term conditions, such as arthritis and other joint diseases.  Many people also take them for short-term problems, such as menstrual cramps, fever from a cold or flu or the occasional backache or headache.

For the research, Bally and her colleagues analyzed four previously published studies that included a total of nearly 447,000 participants. More than 61,400 people suffered heart attacks.  The risk of heart attack linked to NSAIDs was greatest with higher doses during the first month of use.  The researchers found that daily doses of more than 1,200 milligrams of ibuprofen and over 750 mg of naproxen were particularly harmful within those first 30 days.

Based on this new research and other trials, a California heart specialist agreed that patients shouldn’t take these drugs mindlessly.  “Randomized trials and observational data have shown that use of NSAIDs can increase the risk of heart attacks and other types of cardiovascular events,” said Dr. Greg Fonarow.  “The absolute risk is small, but all individuals considering the use of these medications should carefully weigh the benefits against this increased risk,” Fonarow said.

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