There can be no doubt that arthritis causes debilitating pain which can have a serious impact on the patient’s quality of life. Experts estimate that over 54 million adults were diagnosed with some form of arthritis between 2013 and 2015, and it is believed that over 78 million – or 26 percent of all adult Americans – will develop this condition by the year 2040. The pain associated with arthritis can be crippling, and it is the single biggest cause of work disability among adults in the United States. Arthritis costs the country more than $300 billion in medical costs and lost wages each year.
It is understandable, therefore, that people who have to deal with arthritic pain often turn to over-the-counter or prescription painkillers to help them cope with their condition. The drugs most commonly prescribed for arthritis pain are known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Unfortunately, many of the patients who take these types of drugs are unaware of their side effects, which can include allergic reactions, difficulty breathing, gastrointestinal ulcers, kidney disease and high blood pressure.
In addition, a collaborative study by researchers from 14 of Europe’s leading universities and hospitals, published in the European Heart Journal back in 2016, found that NSAIDs are associated with a sharp increase in heart attack risk. (Related: Fifteen percent of NSAID users exceed daily limits, risking serious side effects, according to research.)
All NSAIDs – including both newer and older varieties – linked to heart attacks
Researchers have known for some time that newer types of NSAIDs, known as COX-2 inhibitors, are associated with an increase in heart attack risk, and as a result, many of these drugs have been removed from the market. However, the European study found that even older NSAIDs, especially Diclofenac, are just as likely as the newer drugs to cause a heart attack in patients with underlying heart conditions. (Related: Anti-inflammatory drugs make your heart beat faster … and it’s not out of love.)
“This is worrying, because these older types of medicine are frequently used throughout the western world and in many countries available without prescription,” noted Morten Schmidt of Aarhus University, who took the lead on the project.
Each year, more than 15 per cent of the population in western countries are given a prescription for NSAIDs. This figure increases with age. Sixty per cent of the adult population in Denmark collects at least one prescription for an NSAID within a ten-year period. Heart patients are no exception and previous studies have shown that up to forty per cent of Danish patients with heart failure or previous heart attacks are prescribed NSAIDs.
And, as bad as the consumption of these drugs is in Denmark, many other western countries consume NSAIDs on an even greater scale.
New recommendations for arthritis patients
As a result of this study, the European Society of Cardiology created a new set of recommendations which should be considered by all doctors before they prescribe painkillers to their arthritis patients.
“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,” said Christian Torp-Pedersen, a professor of cardiology at Denmark’s Aalborg University. “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 to be used in patients who have or are at high-risk of cardiovascular diseases.”
The study authors recommend that milder painkillers and drugs with fewer side effects be prescribed for arthritis patients, particularly those with heart problems. Of course, there is an even safer option: Avoid chemical painkillers altogether and make use of natural pain relief methods like acupuncture that fight pain without causing dangerous side effects. Learn more at Medicine.news.