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Atrial Fibrillation Health Center

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Certain Rx Painkillers Tied to Higher AFib Risk

Dutch researchers looked at rates of atrial fibrillation and NSAID use in older adults

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Steven Reinberg

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, April 9, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- A long-term study suggests that older people who use common prescription painkillers, including prescription-strength ibuprofen, may be increasing their risk for developing a type of irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation.

Atrial fibrillation increases the risk of stroke and heart failure and can shorten life. Previous studies have also linked these painkillers -- called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs -- to a risk of heart attack and stroke, the researchers noted.

Although this study is only able to show an association between prescription NSAIDs and the risk for atrial fibrillation, lead researcher Dr. Bruno Stricker, a professor of pharmacoepidemiology at Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, said he believes that this link "suggests a cause-effect relationship."

However, one U.S. expert believes more research is needed.

"Further studies are needed to evaluate use of NSAIDs and risk of atrial fibrillation," said Dr. Gregg Fonarow, a professor of cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a spokesman for the American Heart Association.

For the study, Stricker's team collected data on over 8,400 people who took part in the Rotterdam Study. Since 1990, that study has been tracking the health of people 55 and older who live in one area of the Dutch city.

During the average follow-up period of just under 13 years, 857 of the participants developed atrial fibrillation. Of these, 261 had never used prescription-strength NSAIDs, 554 had used them in the past and 42 were currently taking them.

People who were current, chronic users of NSAIDs had a 76 percent higher risk of atrial fibrillation than those who had never used them. The risk remained even after taking into account other risk factors, such as age, sex and heart problems, Stricker's group found.

For people who used NSAIDs within the previous month, the risk for atrial fibrillation rose to 84 percent, the study authors added.

Although the risk seemed higher with larger doses of these prescription painkillers, the trend wasn't significant, the researchers noted. The study did not examine use of over-the-counter versions of NSAIDs, which include drugs such as Aleve, Advil and Motrin.

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