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Painkillers Worsen Heart Failure

Even Short-Term Ibuprofen, Naproxen May Put Heart Patients in Hospital
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

May 22, 2006 -- Common painkillers raise the risk of heart failure-related hospitalization in people over 60, a new study shows.

The risk is even greater for those who already have heart failure. And even very short-term painkiller use can be dangerous, the study finds -- especially for people taking blood-pressure-lowering medications.

The drugs are known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs. Those implicated in the study are:

  • Indocin tripled the risk of heart failure-related hospitalization.
  • Naproxen (brand names include Aleve and Naprosyn) doubled the risk of heart failure-related hospitalization.
  • Ibuprofen (brand names include Advil and Motrin) increased the risk of heart failure-related hospitalization by 43%.

Overall Risk Small

The study, by Consuelo Huerta, MD, MPH, of the Spanish Center for Pharmacoepidemiologic Research in Madrid, Spain, looked at data on 228,660 patients collected in the U.K. from 1997 through 2000.

While the NSAID drugs increased patient's risk, the overall risk was small for most. However, the drugs are considerably more dangerous for those who already have heart failure.

"Use of NSAIDs was associated with a small risk of a first hospitalization for heart failure," Huerta and colleagues report. "In patients with a prior clinical diagnosis of heart failure, the use of NSAIDs may lead to worsening of pre-existing heart failure that triggers their hospital admission."

The study appears in the current early online edition of the journal Heart.

NSAIDs and Blood Pressure

The new findings don't surprise heart experts, says Andrew L. Smith, medical director for the heart failure and transplant programs at Emory University in Atlanta.

"The data from this study is not surprising to those of us who manage a lot of patients with heart failure," Smith tells WebMD. "NSAIDs can contribute to high blood pressure. This is not commonly recognized among primary care providers. It is a difficult situation, because a lot of heart patients have arthritis and other problems for which these medicines provide relief."

With all the attention given the heart risks of Vioxx, it's easy to forget that over-the-counter painkillers also have risks, says Carl Lavie, MD, medical co-director of cardiac rehabilitation and preventive cardiology, Ochsner Clinic Foundation in New Orleans.

"Doctors don't think anything of giving patients these NSAIDs that raise blood pressure, inhibit the aspirin they need for heart disease prevention, and increase the risk of heat attacks and strokes," Lavie tells WebMD. "And now this paper, like others before it, shows higher heart failure risk. Doctors have to recognize that all these drugs have risks -- not just the ones advertised by the lawyers."

Blood Pressure Drugs

For people taking blood pressure drugs -- diuretics (water pills), ACE inhibitors, or beta-blockers -- there's an even greater risk. Even short-term use of NSAIDs boosts heart failure-related hospitalizations in these patients, the Huerta study shows.

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