A recent study published in BMJ has shown that the widely used painkiller diclofenac is linked to a higher risk of major cardiovascular events, including heart attacks and strokes.
Diclofenac, classified as a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), is commonly prescribed for pain and inflammation relief. However, its cardiovascular risks compared to other NSAIDs have yet to be extensively studied in large trials. To address this, a research team led by Morten Schmidt at Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark investigated the cardiovascular risks associated with diclofenac compared to other NSAIDs and paracetamol.
Participants in the study were categorized into low, moderate, and high baseline cardiovascular risk groups, with an average age of 46 to 49 for those taking NSAIDs and 56 years for those taking paracetamol.
After accounting for potentially influential factors, the findings revealed that taking diclofenac during the study period was linked to a higher rate of major adverse cardiovascular events within 30 days compared to taking other traditional NSAIDs like ibuprofen or naproxen, as well as starting paracetamol. These events included irregular heartbeat or flutter, ischemic stroke, heart failure, and heart attack.
The increased risks associated with diclofenac were observed across different age groups and in both men and women, even at low painkiller doses. Additionally, taking diclofenac was also linked to a higher rate of cardiac death compared to those not taking any NSAIDs and an increased risk of upper gastrointestinal bleeding compared to no NSAIDs and taking ibuprofen or paracetamol. However, no such association was found with naproxen.
The study highlights the importance of carefully assessing the risks and benefits of diclofenac, especially in individuals with existing cardiovascular conditions, and emphasizes the need to monitor patients prescribed this painkiller.