Pain Killers – Not As Good As First Thought For Heart Attack Patients

When it comes to the research done on heart attack patients and the increase of risk of death by taking painkillers, there does not seem to be a safe window for people to take these drugs.

A recent study found that those who used NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) even for a short time had an increased risk of death or suffering a 2nd heart attack compared to those who did not use the drugs.    However, the study was not able to calculate how the size of the dose related to the risk. The current UK guidelines state that NSAID drugs should be used cautiously in people who have heard conditions or should not be used at all, and this study finds that this guideline is correct and that people need to talk to their doctor if they require a painkiller.

This information is from a study done on 102,138 Danish people who had a heart attack for the first time between 1997 and 2006. From these, 83,675 of them survived with the average age being 68 and 63% of those who had a first heart attack being men. From these numbers, 42% used some sort of NSAID after they were discharged as they were prescribed by their doctor.

In looking at the follow-up data, it was determined that those who used any type of NSAID for up to a week had a 45% increase in risk of death or a second heart attack compared to those who were not using these drugs.

For those that used NSAIDS for up to 90 days had a 55% increased risk of death or heart attack. This data was pulled from the patient files on records, not through in person interviews.

This study agrees with the current recommendations to prescribe the lowest effective dose for the shortest amount of time possible for someone who has suffered a heart attack. For someone who has had a severe heart problem, it is best for them to not be prescribed these medicines at all.

One thing to consider is that those that had their heart attack at the beginning of the study were likely prescribed higher doses of the NSAIDS than those at the end of the study due to changes in the guidelines over time. Another consideration is that the study did not analyze the size of the dosage given and its relation to the risk of the drug itself. Another consideration is that the study was done in Denmark which may have different prescribing practices as well as different dosages. The study did not get information about things such as blood pressure, smoking habits or lung function which may have had an impact on the results.

As the research was done by looking at customer files, these results were calculated using the information in the file but does not know whether the patient actually took the prescription as prescribed or if they took it at all.

The study was done by researchers at the Copenhagen University Hospital. The full study was published in the medical journal Circulation.


Schjerning Olsen AM, Fosbøl EL, Lindhardsen J et al. Duration of Treatment With Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs and Impact on Risk of Death and Recurrent Myocardial Infarction in Patients With Prior Myocardial Infarction. A Nationwide Cohort Study. Circulation, [published online before print] May 9 2011

Claire Al-Aufi

Claire Al-Aufi is a contributing author for Hive Health Media who provides updates on health and fitness news.

2 thoughts on “Pain Killers – Not As Good As First Thought For Heart Attack Patients

  • May 23, 2011 at 8:43 am

    The same conclusion was published by the University of Florida stating that “among hypertensive patients with coronary artery disease, chronic self-reported use of NSAIDs was associated with an increased risk of adverse events”.

  • May 16, 2011 at 8:23 am

    Yes there are reports of diclofenac doing more harm in heart disease than benefits. Aspirin is commonly used for preventing heart attack, but the reports says aspirin can increase the risk.


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