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Common pain relievers linked to cardiac arrest; naproxen appears the safest

Written by Dr. Daliah Wachs
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Another study has found NSAIDS, commonly purchased over the counter, to increase risk of cardiac arrest.

Non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) include ibuprofen and diclofenac. These medications are seen in products under the brand name Motrin and Voltaren, respectively. This class of medications is one of the most popular as they help consumers treat a variety of ailments including helping to relieve pain, inflammation and lower fever.  Moreover they are inexpensive and many do not require a prescription at the lower doses.

However, their chronic use has been linked to serious medical complications such as ulcers, kidney failure and cardiac issues. This week, a study published in the March issue of European Heart Journal – Cardiovascular Pharmacotherapy found NSAID use (specifically Ibuprofen and diclofenac) to increase the chance of cardiac arrest.

The researchers from the Copenhagen University Hospital Gentofte in Denmark reviewed close to 30,000 cases of people who suffered cardiac arrest out of the hospital during the years 2001 and 2010 and found NSAID use. Diclofenac, specifically, carried a 50 percent increased risk of cardiac arrest.

COX-2 selective inhibitors, such as Celebrex and Naproxen (Aleve) were NOT associated with increased risk in this particular study.

According to the study author, Professor Gunnar H. Gislason, professor of cardiology, “the findings are a stark reminder that NSAIDs are not harmless. “Diclofenac and ibuprofen, both commonly used drugs, were associated with significantly increased risk of cardiac arrest. NSAIDs should be used with caution and for a valid indication. They should probably be avoided in patients with cardiovascular disease or many cardiovascular risk factors.”

He continued by saying, “Naproxen is probably the safest NSAID and we can take up to 500 mg a day. Diclofenac is the riskiest NSAID and should be avoided by patients with cardiovascular disease and the general population. Safer drugs are available that have similar painkilling effects so there is no reason to use diclofenac.”  He suggested no more than 1,200 mg of ibuprofen per day.

How much safer is Naproxen?

This is not the first study that has demonstrated Naproxen to have lower cardiovascular risk. In fact the FDA was asked to remove the warning from its label, yet its panel voted to keep the NSAID related cardiovascular risk warning, with committee member, Donald Miller, chair of the pharmacy practice department at North Dakota State University in Fargo, saying “there is certainly a lot of evidence that naproxen is safer than other [NSAIDs] in terms of causing heart attack and stroke, but being safer doesn’t mean it is perfectly safe. I think that is the big issue.”

NSAID use has risen exponentially as more people are living longer and feeling the effects of aging in their joints and back. Moreover, narcotics are becoming less accessible and providers are offering these non-addictive substitutes instead; however, because these are non-narcotic, and many are available over the counter, those who self-medicate may inadvertently take too much since “it wouldn’t be over the counter if it wasn’t safe."

Why would NSAIDS cause cardiac arrest?

One theory is the medication may cause suppression of prostacyclin, a cardioprotective lipid (prostaglandin), that inhibits platelet activation and vasoldilation (relaxation of the blood vessels). NSAIDS have also been known to raise blood pressure, possibly by this inhibition of vasodialation. This type of stress on a heart, especially if its vulnerable to abnormal heart rhythms or heart disease, can cause cardiac arrest.

But we don’t want to be fearful that taking anti-inflammatories will stop our hearts. Being proactive with our heart health is paramount, and this study reminds us to use caution with over the counter medications.

Preventing Heart Disease

Firstly, we must know our risk factors. These include:

  • Family history of heart disease
  • Personal history of heart disease
  • High Blood Pressure
  • High Cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Inactivity
  • Males over 40
  • Females who are post menopausal
  • High stress
  • and even short stature has been cited as a potential risk factor.

As you can see, many of us can be at risk for heart disease. Therefore, we should be evaluated with an EKG, echocardiogram and any other exams our medical provider and/or cardiologist deem necessary.

Reduce your risk by doing the following:

  • Maintain a normal blood pressure
  • Maintain normal blood sugar
  • Maintain normal cholesterol and lipid levels
  • Reduce stress
  • Maintain a balanced diet, rich in potassium-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables
  • Quit smoking
  • Stay active
  • Maintain a healthy weight.

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Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a Board Certified Family Physician. The Dr. Daliah Show , is nationally syndicated M-F from 11:00am-2:00pm and Saturday from Noon-1:00pm (Central) at GCN.

 

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