DRUG ALERT: Common painkiller taken by millions ‘increases risk of heart attack and stroke by 50%’


A COMMON painkiller prescribed to millions of people could increase the risk of heart attack or stroke by 50 per cent, experts have warned.

Diclofenac – marketed under the brand name Voltarol or Voltaren in the US – can cause heart failure and irregular heartbeats, new findings show.

A major new study has linked the common painkiller diclofenac to increased risk of heart attack or stroke
The drug was recently withdrawn from being sold over the counter in the UK – over fears about serious side effects.

It’s widely used to treat a range of painful conditions, typically back pain, headaches and arthritis.

Since January 2015, it has only been available in the UK with a prescription, but it can still be bought over the counter in most other countries, including the US and parts of Europe.

The drug – marketed under the name Voltarol – is typically prescribed in the UK to treat back pain and severe headaches. It’s available over the counter in the US and parts of Europe
Now the biggest study of its kind – of more than six million people – has linked diclofenac to “major cardiovascular events”.

Dr Morten Schmidt, of Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark said the drug should come with a warning – and other countries should follow the UK’s lead and make it prescription only.

“Diclofenac poses a cardiovascular health risk compared with non-use, paracetamol use and use of other traditional non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs,” the cardiologist said.

Around five million prescriptions are written for diclofenac in the UK – but experts warn other painkillers should be used before it is, to lower the risk of heart problems

Dr Schmidt’s team found patients using the drug were more likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke – as well as other heart problems.

In those who took diclofenac for 30 days, the risk rose by 50 per cent – compared to those people not taking any drugs.

Compared to those using ibuprofen, the risk of using diclofenac increased by 20 per cent – and 30 per cent compared to those taking naproxen.

Dr Schmidt said: “It is time to acknowledge the potential health risk of diclofenac and to reduce its use.”

The drug belongs to a class of painkillers known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs).

In the UK alone around five million prescriptions are written for diclofenac every year.

The new study also found an increased risk of cardiac death in those people taking the drug, compared to other NSAIDs.

Those patients were also more likely to suffer internal bleeding in the upper intestines.

Dr Schmidt said in some cases using NSAIDs will be “worthwhile for some patients” to improve their quality of life – despite the side effects.

But, he added, there is no reason to start a patient on diclofenac before trying other NSAIDs first.

The MHRA has said diclofenac should not be used by people with serious underlying heart conditions.

People who have suffered heart failure, heart disease or a stroke should stop using it completely.

Smokers and people with high blood pressure, raised cholesterol and diabetes have been advised to use the drug only after consulting their GP or pharmacist.

The MHRA says diclofenac would continue to provide safe and effective pain relief, apart from patients in certain “at risk” groups.

Last year a study found taking ibuprofen to treat pain “for just one day increases your risk of heart attack by half”.

And another piece of research found painkillers like ibuprofen “increase the risk of cardiac arrest by a third”.  (The Sun)

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