Use of NSAIDs Risky for Osteoarthritis Patients

By Pat Anson, PNN Editor

It’s long been known that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen can raise the risk of cardiovascular problems. A large new study in Canada has documented how NSAIDs can significantly raise the risk of heart disease, congestive heart failure and stroke in people with osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a joint disorder that leads to thinning of cartilage and progressive joint damage. NSAIDs are frequently used to treat the pain and inflammation caused by OA.

The Canadian study, published in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatology, looked at nearly 7,750 osteoarthritis patients in British Columbia and compared them with a control group of over 23,000 patients without OA. The average age of the participants was 65 and a little over half were women.

The risk of developing cardiovascular disease was found to be about 23% higher among people with OA than the control group. Researchers attributed about 41% of that increased risk to the use of NSAIDs.


NSAIDs appeared to play a significant role in several cardiovascular problems. The risk of congestive heart failure was 42% higher among people with OA, followed by a 17% greater risk of heart disease and a 14% greater risk of stroke.

"To the best of our knowledge, this is the first longitudinal study to evaluate the mediating role of NSAID use in the relationship between osteoarthritis and cardiovascular disease in a large population-based sample," said senior author Aslam Anis, PhD, of the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia.

"Our results indicate that osteoarthritis is an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease and suggest a substantial proportion of the increased risk is due to the use of NSAIDs. This is highly relevant because NSAIDs are some of the most commonly used drugs to manage pain in patients with osteoarthritis."

The association of cardiovascular disease with NSAIDs is consistent with previous research.  A large international study in 2017, for example, found that prescription strength NSAIDs raises the risk of a heart attack as soon as the first week of use.

NSAIDs are used to alleviate pain and reduce inflammation, and are found in a wide variety of over-the-counter products, including cold and flu remedies. They are found in so many products -- such as Advil and Motrin -- that many consumers may not be aware how often they use NSAIDs. 

Canada adopted guidelines in 2017 that recommend NSAIDs as an alternative to opioid pain medication. The 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 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 in 2016 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 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.”

In 2015, the Food and Drug Administration ordered warning labels for all NSAIDs to indicate they increase the risk of a fatal heart attack or stroke. The FDA warning does not apply to aspirin.

The European Society of Cardiology recommends limited use of NSAIDs by patients who are at risk of heart failure. People already diagnosed with heart failure should refrain from using NSAIDs altogether.

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 .

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.