Common painkiller linked to increased risk of major heart problems

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Researchers also said that the drug should come with an appropriate front package warning to inform users of its potential health risks.

Both men and women were at higher risk for heart problems, as were those taking low doses of the drug.

The UK's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency say diclofenac should not be used by people with serious underlying heart conditions. The rate of major adverse cardiovascular events was also 20% higher among diclofenac initiators than among those who started taking paracetamol, or ibuprofen, and 30% higher among diclofenac initiators than patients who started to take naproxen.

It was also found to be linked to an increased risk of cardiac death when compared with taking no traditional non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

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The researchers said that despite the potential side effects, treatment with NSAIDs may be worthwhile for improving the quality of life of patients suffering from pain and inflammation.

But its cardiovascular risks compared with those of other traditional NSAIDs have never been examined in large randomized controlled trials, and current concerns about these risks make such trials unethical to conduct.

Researchers from Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark, who recently published a study British Medical Journal on the relationship between heart health and diclofenac, believe the drug should be globally banned as an over-the-counter medication. The authors then compared the documented health issues that arose within 30 days in individuals given a course of diclofenac (1.3 million people) to those of 3.8 million people given ibuprofen, 291,490 given naproxen, 764,781 people given the non-NSAID pain reliever paracetamol, and 1.3 million people not prescribed any drug at all. The overall risk for each individual patient, though, was found to be low.

The study also relies on observational data, so it can't directly prove that diclofenac is causing problems.

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People who have suffered heart failure, heart disease or a stroke should stop using it completely.

'Considering its cardiovascular and gastrointestinal risks, however, there is little justification to initiate diclofenac treatment before other traditional NSAIDs, ' they said in a statement.

But it adds diclofenac continues to provide safe and effective pain relief, apart from patients in certain "at risk" groups. Back in 2013, a major Oxford University study found that for every 1,000 people with a moderate risk of heart disease taking 150mg a day for a year, about three would experience an avoidable heart attack, of which one would be fatal.

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