Harvard Men's Health Watch

Common pain relievers add bleeding risk to afib treatment

The abnormal heart rhythms from atrial fibrillation (afib) can form clots that, in turn, trigger strokes. To prevent that, people with afib take a blood-thinning medication to prevent clotting. But also taking common over-the-counter painkillers can block clotting too much and lead to dangerous bleeding, according to a study in Annals of Internal Medicine.

Danish researchers examined health records of more than 150,000 people with afib. A third of them had also been prescribed nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve). These common pain relievers interfere with the body's natural clotting function. Paradoxically, some NSAIDs have also been linked to higher risk of thromboembolism, or a clot that forms in the body and travel to the lungs, brain, or elsewhere.

The Danish study found that NSAIDs, when taken at the same time as blood thinners, caused two additional serious bleeding incidents for every 1,000 patients who took them for two weeks. "Serious" in this study means bleeding in the brain or gut. The study also confirmed a higher risk of thromboembolism.

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