Is ibuprofen bad for your health?

Helen Williams 2by Helen Williams, consultant pharmacist in cardiovascular medicine

A new BMJ study published today examines the effects of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like ibuprofen on the heart.  The study looked at 10 million people and found taking NSAIDs increased the risk of being taken to hospital with heart failure by 19%.   Sounds frightening doesn’t it?  And it led to some alarming headlines stories in the media.

However, there’s no need to panic or stop taking your medicines.  The reality is for most people the risk of using a medicine like ibuprofen is very small.  Those most affected will be in the older age range of over 65 plus using this group of medicines, particularly at higher doses. They will usually be taking NSAIDs which have been prescribed and so be under the care of a doctor who is monitoring their health.  It’s reassuring to know that over recent years, the NHS has moved away from more the potent NSAIDs, (such as indomethacin, piroxicam, and even diclofenac) because of the established increased risk of heart attacks and strokes with these medicines.

If you are using ibuprofen regularly, for example every day, you should really talk to a health professional such as your pharmacist who can try to help with the causes of your pain, suggest alternatives, including paracetamol and exercise where appropriate, and ensure you have the right safety monitoring.

However, if you just take ibuprofen for occasional aches and pains, you don’t need to be concerned and can go on taking them when you experience pain due to inflammation.  Painkillers are an everyday part of many people’s lives and all drugs have both harms and benefits. Why not try using paracetamol for simple headaches, where the pain is not connected to inflammation?

If you have any doubts or questions do seek advice from a pharmacist or doctor.  It’s a good rule of thumb with any painkiller to take the lowest dose that’s effective for the shortest possible time.  For those of you younger than 65 without evidence of heart disease the risks of a short course of ibuprofen in people remain very low.

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