Common Arthritis Painkiller Associated With Heart Problems

Diclofenac was met with more instances of heart attacks, irregular heart rhythms, and even fatal problems.

Diclofenac, a commonly used non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) often used to treat arthritis and other joint conditions, may be linked with an increased risk of heart problems.1 Researchers of a new study found that the rate of first-time cardiovascular events such as heart attacks, development of an irregular heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation, or death from heart problems, was 20 to 30% higher among those taking diclofenac than among those taking other NSAIDs such as ibuprofen or naproxen, or paracetamol (an acetaminophen). Compared to those not taking any painkillers, the rate of new heart problems was 50% higher for diclofenac users.

Researchers analyzed data from the Danish national patient registry, a database of nearly 1.4 million diclofenac users, 3.9 million ibuprofen users, 292,000 naproxen users, 765,00 paracetamol users, and 1.3 million people not using painkillers. Among every 400 study participants taking diclofenac, roughly one person per year had a cardiovascular event.

Graphic of the heart.A look at heart implications when using certain NSAIDs, such as diclofenac (Credit: 123RF).

It was also reported that fewer people had cardiovascular events while taking other painkillers; the increased risk was apparent even within 30 days of starting the drug and even with low doses; and that the drug was also associated with an increased gastrointestinal bleeding risk compared with ibuprofen.

Thus, study authors say that there is little reason to use diclofenac before trying other NSAIDs. They recommend that the drug should not be made available over the counter, where it is in many countries, and, when prescribed, should be accompanied by appropriate warnings about its potential risks. While the study couldn’t outright prove that diclofenac actually caused more cardiovascular events, it did include more participants than most previous analyses, thus providing strong evidence. “It is time to acknowledge the potential health risk of diclofenac and reduce its use,” the research team concluded.

Always talk to your doctor before using any new medication and its risks.

Updated on: 09/28/18
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