Report links painkillers to increased risk of heart attack

ABC News' Dr. Jen Ashton discusses the findings live on "GMA."

ByABC News
May 11, 2017, 10:46 AM

— -- A new report in the British Medical Journal appears to link commonly used painkillers to an increased risk of heart attack.

The painkillers that the team of researchers from Canada, Finland and Germany studied included naproxen, celebrex, ibuprofen, voltaren and rofecoxib, which are all classified as oral non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs. NSAIDs are available both with a prescription and over the counter.

Researchers examined over 450,000 cases of "myocardial infarction," or heart attacks, from four databases in Canada, the United Kingdom and Finland. The group found that more than 60,000 of the patients they observed were taking NSAID's near the time of their cardiac event.

The team also found that patients were most vulnerable during the first month of their NSAID treatment, and that those who were taking higher doses of NSAIDs were at the highest risk.

Dr. Jennifer Ashton, ABC News chief women's health correspondent, said the new report, published Tuesday, should raise people's awareness but also needs "a lot more data" to draw more definitive findings.

"This study was based on observation. It didn’t explain a mechanism or cause or effect," Ashton said today on "Good Morning America. "There were other factors that could have also increased the risk of heart attack in those people which weren’t taken into account."

Any over-the-counter or prescription medications taken to treat ailments like fever, pain and injury come with their own unique risks and benefits, Ashton said.

"They can be safe and effective but it’s not one size fits all, and I think that’s the key message here," she said. "People need to individualize that risk and have the awareness that it could be increased."

Ashton recommended people take steps on their own to reduce the risk of a heart attack, including not smoking, being active daily and limiting alcohol intake.

"It’s not going to completely remove the risk of death from heart attack,” she said, “but it can lower it and it’s in your control.”