Pain relievers and heart attack risk

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Heart attack risk may rise within a week of taking daily high doses of certain over-the-counter pain relievers, according to a new study.

Previous research has linked the use of pain relievers known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to a heightened risk of heart attack. The new report, published in the May 9, 2017, issue of The BMJ, analyzed data from nearly half a million people, of whom about 61,000 had heart attacks.

Researchers found that the risk began to increase within the first week of taking an NSAID. The most harmful doses appeared to be more than 1,200 milligrams (mg) of ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and more than 750 mg of naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn) per day. Compared with people who didn't take NSAIDs, those who did had 20% to 50% higher odds of having a heart attack while taking the drugs.

For healthy people, whose baseline risk of heart attack is very low, that level of added risk is minimal. But for older people, especially those with high blood pressure or a previous heart attack, it's more worrisome. Don't use these drugs unless you really need them, and then at the lowest possible dose for the least amount of time.