A new study exhibits a link between high doses of painkillers known as NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and heart attacks.
The findings are observational and other factors other pills could be involved. In the study an international team of scientists analysed data from 446,763 people to try to understand when heart problems might arise.
Analysing the data from Canada, Finland and the UK, the researchers discovered that taking these Nsaid painkillers could elevate the risk of heart attacks even in the first week of use and risk could be greatest in the first 30 days of taking the drugs.
This group of drugs includes ibuprofen, diclofenac, celecoxib and naproxen, which are available over the counter.
Dr. Michèle Bally, an epidemiologist at the University of Montreal Hospital Research Center, who led the research said, "We found that all common NSAIDs shared a heightened risk of heart attack. There is a perception that naproxen has the lowest cardiovascular risk (among the NSAIDs), but that's not true."
The paper which was published on Tuesday in the BMJ suggests that doctors and patients weigh the potential harms and benefits before relying on the drugs as a treatment option.
"People minimize the risks because drugs are over the counter and they don't read labels", Bally said. "Why not consider all treatment options? ... Every therapeutic decision is a balance of benefits and risk."
The findings lead to uncertainity as stated by Stephen Evans, professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, citing that a number of lifestyle factors, such as smoking and body mass index, which are not available in the data about the study participants.
"The paper has good evidence that there is some risk of a heart attack for all NSAIDs and suggests that the risk starts immediately on starting them, but is only expressed in relative terms", said Evans, who was not involved in the research. "There is no clear description of the absolute risk."
The findings are based on the chances of a heart attack occurring in people taking these drugs, compared with those not taking them. If risk was already low in a person, a 20% to 50% increased risk is not that much cause for concern.
"The risks are relatively small, and for most people who are not at high risk of a heart attack, these findings have minimal implications", Evans said.
But while waiting for more clarity on the true level of risk and its cause, experts still advise caution when prescribing or taking these painkillers.