Aspirin Risky for Seniors 75 and Older

By Pat Anson, Editor

The old cliché about a doctor telling you to “take two aspirin and call me in the morning” isn’t such great advice after all. Especially for seniors aged 75 and older.

A daily dose of aspirin has long been recommended as a way to prevent a heart attack or stroke. But British researchers at the University of Oxford say the blood thinning effects of aspirin substantially raise the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding as patients grow older.

Their study, published in The Lancet medical journal, estimates that aspirin causes over 3,000 deaths in the U.K. annually.

“We have known for some time that aspirin increases the risk of bleeding for elderly patients. But our new study gives us a much clearer understanding of the size of the increased risk and of the severity and consequences of bleeds,” said lead author Professor Peter Rothwell.

“Previous studies have shown there is a clear benefit of short term anti-platelet treatment following a heart attack or stroke. But our findings raise questions about the balance of risk and benefit of long-term daily aspirin use in people aged 75 or over.”

Rothwell and his colleagues followed over 3,100 patients for 10 years who were prescribed a daily aspirin after a heart attack or stroke. For the patients under 65, the annual rate of bleeding severe enough to require hospitalization was about 1.5 percent. For patients aged 75-84, the annual rate rose to 3.5 percent and for patients over 85 it was 5 percent.

The researchers are not recommending that seniors stop taking aspirin. But they suggest that a proton-pump inhibitor – heartburn drugs – be prescribed along with aspirin to reduce the risk of bleeding.  They estimate that proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs) could reduce upper gastrointestinal bleeding by as much as 90% in patients receiving long-term aspirin treatment.

“While there is some evidence that PPIs might have some small long-term risks, this study shows that the risk of bleeding without them at older ages is high, and the consequences significant,” said Rothwell.

About half of adults aged 75 or older in the U.S. and Europe take aspirin or another anti-platelet drug daily .

NSAIDs Raise Risk of Heart Attack Within Days

By Pat Anson, Editor

Taking prescription strength non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) raises the risk of a heart attack as soon as the first week of use, according to a large new study published in The BMJ.

An international teams of researchers analyzed data from eight studies involving nearly 450,000 patients in Canada, Finland and Germany -- 61,460 of whom had a heart attack. They found that taking any dose of NSAIDs for one week, one month, or more than a month was associated with an increased risk of myocardial infarction. Researchers estimated that the overall risk of a heart attack was about 20 to 50% higher when using NSAIDs.

"Given that the onset of risk of acute myocardial infarction occurred in the first week and appeared greatest in the first month of treatment with higher doses, prescribers should consider weighing the risks and benefits of NSAIDs before instituting treatment, particularly for higher doses," wrote lead author Michèle Bally, PhD, an epidemiologist at the University of Montreal Hospital Research Center.

The NSAIDs of particular interest to the researchers were ibuprofen, diclofenac and naproxen, as well as the COX-2 inhibitors celecoxib and rofecoxib. COX-2 inhibitors work differently than traditional NSAIDs, by targeting an enzyme responsible for pain and inflammation.

“All NSAIDs, including naproxen, were found to be associated with an increased risk of acute myocardial infarction. Risk of myocardial infarction with celecoxib was comparable to that of traditional NSAIDS and was lower than for rofecoxib. Risk was greatest during the first month of NSAID use and with higher doses,” Bally wrote.

Several previous studies have also found that NSAIDs and COX- 2 inhibitors raise the risk of a heart attack, but the exact cause is unknown. Researchers at the University of California Davis reported last year that NSAIDs impaired the activity of cardiac cells in rodents.  

NSAIDs are widely used to treat everything from fever and headache to low back pain and arthritis. They are in so many different pain relieving products, including over-the-counter cold and flu products, that health officials believe many consumers may not be aware how often they use NSAIDs. 

In 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ordered that stronger warning labels be put on NSAIDs to indicate they increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke. The warning does not apply to aspirin.

“There is no period of use shown to be without risk,” said Judy Racoosin, MD, deputy director of FDA’s Division of Anesthesia, Analgesia, and Addiction Products. “Everyone may be at risk – even people without an underlying risk for cardiovascular disease.”

The BMJ study was published the day after Canada released new guidelines that recommend NSAIDs as an alternative to opioid pain medication. The Canadian guideline makes no mention of the health risks associated with NSAIDs, but focuses on their “cost effectiveness.”

“NSAID-based treatment may have lower mean costs and higher effectiveness relative to opioids,” the new guideline states. “Naproxen-based regimens in particular may be more cost effective compared to opioids and other NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen and celecoxib.

Opioid guidelines released last year by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which the Canadian guideline was modeled after, also recommend NSAIDs as an alternative to opioids, but acknowledge the medications “do have risks, including gastrointestinal bleeding or perforation as well as renal and cardiovascular risks.”

Despite those risks, the CDC cited the low cost of NSAIDs and other non-opioid treatments as an “important consideration” for doctors.

“Many pain treatments, including acetaminophen, NSAIDs, tricyclic antidepressants, and massage therapy, are associated with lower mean and median annual costs compared with opioid therapy,” the CDC guideline states.

Researchers Say NSAIDs Cause Heart Damage

By Pat Anson, Editor

Researchers have known for many years that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. Now they may finally be learning why the pain relievers can be harmful.

In experiments on heart cells from rats and mice, scientists at the University of California, Davis, found that NSAIDs reduced the activity of cardiac cells at pharmacological levels found in humans. Their study was recently published in the Journal of Molecular and Cellular Cardiology.

“We knew these non-steroidal anti-inflammatories had negative side effects for heart disease and stroke risk, “ said lead author Aldrin Gomes, a UC Davis associate professor of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior. “But now we have an idea of some of the mechanisms behind it.”

NSAIDs are widely used to treat everything from fever and headache to low back pain and arthritis. They are found in so many different products -- such as ibuprofen, Advil and Motrin -- that many consumers may not be aware how often they use NSAIDs. 

Several studies have found that NSAIDs increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and other health problems, but the exact cause has been unclear.

The UC Davis researchers compared naproxen, considered the safest over-the-counter NSAID, with a more potent anti-inflammatory, the prescription drug meclofenamate sodium (MS).

They found that MS increased reactive oxygen species, impaired mitochondrial function, decreased proteasome function, and increased cardiac cell death. Naproxen did not affect proteasome function or cause heart cells to die, but it did impair mitochondrial function and increase reactive oxygen species produced in cardiac cells.

“We were surprised to see that many of the NSAIDs we tested were causing the cardiac cell to die when used for prolonged periods,” said Gomes. “Some people are taking these drugs too often, and this is a problem. These drugs are abused.”

For moderate pain, Gomes suggests rubbing an anti-inflammatory topically onto the pained area, which would not expose the entire body to the drug. Taking an antioxidant like vitamin C before ingesting a NSAID may also reduce cardiac cell death.

Last year the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ordered warning labels for all NSAIDs to be strengthened to indicate they increase the risk of a fatal heart attack or stroke. The agency said studies have shown the risk of serious side effects can occur in the first few weeks of using NSAIDs and could increase the longer people use the drugs. The revised warning does not apply to aspirin.

The FDA said people who have a history of heart disease, particularly those who recently had a heart attack or cardiac bypass surgery, are at the greatest risk. But the risk is also present for people who don't have heart problems.

“Everyone may be at risk – even people without an underlying risk for cardiovascular disease,” said Judy Racoosin, MD, deputy director of FDA’s Division of Anesthesia, Analgesia, and Addiction Products.

In a major study published recently in the European Heart Journal, a number of leading heart specialists warned that there is no "solid evidence" that NSAIDs are safe.

"When doctors issue prescriptions for NSAIDs, they must in each individual case carry out a thorough assessment of the risk of heart complications and bleeding. NSAIDs should only be sold over the counter when it comes with an adequate warning about the associated cardiovascular risks. In general, NSAIDs are not be used in patients who have or are at high-risk of cardiovascular diseases," said co-author Christian Torp-Pedersen, a professor in cardiology at Aalborg University in Denmark.

Stress and Anxiety in RA Patients Leads to Heart Disease

By Pat Anson, Editor

In addition to pain and disability, rheumatoid arthritis patients often have to cope with depression, stress, anxiety, and lack of social support.

New research shows that toxic brew of emotions also makes them more likely to develop atherosclerosis, a buildup of fatty deposits in the arteries that leads to cardiovascular disease. The study, published in Arthritis Care & Research, recommends that RA patients be screened and treated for psychological issues to lower their risk of heart problems.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disease in which the body’s own defenses attack joint tissues, causing joint pain, inflammation and bone erosion. About 1.5 million Americans and 1% of adults worldwide suffer from RA.

Previous studies have shown that cardiovascular disease is more prevalent in RA patients, but until now the exact was unknown.

The new study looked at data from the Evaluation of Subclinical Cardiovascular Disease and Predictors of Events in Rheumatoid Arthritis Study (ESCAPE), which examined the prevalence, progression, and risk factors for cardiovascular disease in RA.

Nearly 200 RA patients underwent computed tomography and ultrasound tests to measure their coronary artery calcium (CAC) and carotid artery thickness for plaque build-up. Researchers found that patients with higher anxiety and anger scores, depression and caregiver stress were more likely to have high CAC scores – a sign of moderate to severe atherosclerosis.

"Our study shows that depression, stress, anxiety, and anger are associated with atherosclerosis markers, which are known predictors of cardiovascular risk in RA," said Dr. Ying Liu, the first author of the study. "These findings highlight the importance of screening and treatment of heart disease risks factors to limit not only health care costs, but prevent morbidity and mortality for RA patients."

Researchers also found that RA patients had an increased risk of carotid plaque buildup due to job stress. Having a strong social support network was linked to lower carotid artery thickness.

"Our study is the first to investigate the association between psychosocial comorbidities and elevated risk of atherosclerosis in RA patients," said  lead investigator Dr. Jon Giles, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Columbia University, College of Physicians & Surgeons in New York City. "Understanding the risk factors that lead to greater mortality in those with chronic conditions like RA is extremely important.”

A recent study by researchers in Mexico found that one quarter of patients with rheumatoid arthritis had ischaemia or infarction – decreased blood flow to the heart which can lead to a surprise heart attack.

“The condition nearly doubles the risk of a heart attack but most patients never knew they had heart disease and were never alerted about their cardiovascular risk," said Adriana Puente, MD, a cardiologist at the National Medical Center in Mexico City.

Many health experts believe the inflammation triggered by RA in the joints may raise inflammation throughout the whole body, including the heart’s coronary arteries.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, more than 50 percent of premature deaths in people with rheumatoid arthritis result from cardiovascular disease. The heightened risk of heart disease applies to all forms of arthritis, including osteoarthritis, gout, lupus and psoriatic arthritis.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Raises Risk of Heart Attack

By Pat Anson, Editor

Rheumatoid arthritis is a painful, disabling and incurable disease of the joints. But what many RA patients don’t know is that it also significantly raises their risk of a heart attack.

A new study by researchers in Mexico found that one quarter of patients with rheumatoid arthritis and no prior symptoms of heart disease could have a surprise heart attack. Their risk was higher even without cardiovascular risk factors such as smoking and diabetes.

“The condition nearly doubles the risk of a heart attack but most patients never knew they had heart disease and were never alerted about their cardiovascular risk," said  Adriana Puente, MD, a cardiologist at the National Medical Center in Mexico City.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disease in which the body’s own defenses attack joint tissues, causing swelling, inflammation and bone erosion. About 1% of adults worldwide suffer from RA.

Dr. Puente’s study, which was presented this week at the International Conference of Nuclear Cardiology in Madrid, involved 91 RA patients with no prior symptoms of heart disease. Ninety percent of the patients were women, their average age was 59, and they had similar cardiovascular risk factors as the general population.

Nearly one quarter of the patients (24%) had abnormal Gated SPECT, indicating the presence of ischaemia or infarction – decreased blood flow to the heart which can lead to the death of heart tissue.

"The ischaemia and infarction may be explained by the persistence of the systemic inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis which may cause an accelerated atherosclerosis process,” said Puente.

"The results highlight the importance of conducting diagnostic tests in patients with rheumatoid arthritis to see if they have cardiovascular disease, specifically atherosclerotic coronary artery disease (ischaemia or myocardial infarction) even if they have no symptoms and regardless of whether they have cardiovascular risk factors.”

Puente says patients should be warned that some RA medications, such as corticosteroids and methotrexate, can elevate plasma lipid levels and raise their risk of cardiovascular disease.

"Patients with rheumatoid arthritis should be told that they have an elevated predisposition to heart disease and need pharmacological treatment to diminish the inflammatory process and atherosclerotic complications. They also need advice on how best to control their rheumatoid arthritis and decrease their cardiovascular risk factors,” she said

Many health experts believe the inflammation triggered by RA in the joints may raise inflammation throughout the whole body, including the heart’s coronary arteries.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, more than 50 percent of premature deaths in people with rheumatoid arthritis result from cardiovascular disease.

But the heightened risk of heart disease applies to all forms of arthritis, including osteoarthritis, gout, lupus and psoriatic arthritis.

“Inflammation, regardless of where it comes from, is a risk factor for heart disease,” says rheumatologist Jon T. Giles, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University School of Medicine. “So it’s not surprising that people with inflammatory arthritis like RA, lupus and psoriatic arthritis have more cardiac events.”