Large regular doses of ibuprofen and similar painkillers could treble the risk of strokes and increase the likelihood of heart attacks, researchers are warning.
Scientists have found high doses of ibuprofen may carry a similar health risk to painkillers that were withdrawn from the market several years ago on safety grounds.
Up to eight million Britons are prescribed so-called anti-inflammatory drugs every year, usually to combat arthritis or back pain.
Doctors stress that the stroke and heart risks only exist for those taking high doses of ibuprofen over long periods – and there is no danger in the odd pill for a headache, for example.
Researchers from the University of Bern in Switzerland looked at more than 31 clinical trials involving 116,429 patients.
They had each taken one of seven commonly-used painkillers. The study, published in the British Medical Journal, found that those who had taken ibuprofen over a long period of time were almost three times as likely to suffer a stroke.
The painkiller was also shown to raise significantly the risk of heart attacks and deaths caused by heart disease.
Another commonly prescribed pill, diclofenac, which is also sold under the trade name Rhumalgan, was shown to almost treble the risk of strokes and increase the likelihood of heart disease related death by four times.
The study also suggested that ibuprofen carried a similar risk of stroke and death from heart disease to rofecoxib, also known as Vioxx, which was withdrawn from the market in 2004 over safety concerns.
Professor Peter Jüni, of the University of Bern, said: ‘We looked at patients taking these drugs three to four times a day.
‘They were mainly being treated for osteoarthritis with a few who had rheumatoid arthritis. A lot of them are elderly who are already have lots of risk factors and these will then be duplicated with these painkillers.
‘In terms of stroke, ibuprofen doesn’t look very good. If I was in chronic pain I would not take it as the risks are just too high. I would look at the different options.’
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