They are often a person's first option when feeling sick. But, although they may help dull discomfort, new research suggests that over-the-counter painkillers could do more harm than good.
When taken during bouts of the flu or chest infections ibuprofen, found in most remedies actually triples the risk of a heart attack.
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Researchers analysed claims data from nearly 10,000 patients who were hospitalised for a heart attack over a seven-year period in Taiwan. The goal was to investigate whether non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) had an effect on the risk of a heart attack.
While acute respiratory infections, such as a cold or flu, were also monitored in the study published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.The results showed that using oral painkillers during a respiratory infection saw a 3.4-fold heart attack risk.
While that jumped to 7.2 when patients were given the drugs via a hospital drip, according to the researchers. Conversely, when patients had an infection but didn't take NSAIDs their risk was 2.7 times greater than a healthy person. However, that fell to 1.5 when they took the drugs while infection-free.
'Physicians should be aware that the use of NSAIDs during an acute respiratory infection might further increase the risk of a heart attack,' said study author Cheng-Chung Fang, of National Taiwan University Hospital.
But more research is needed to establish why the link exists, he added.
Warnings about painkillers are not new. In 2005, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned that taking the drugs increase the risk of having a heart attack or stroke. They may also raise blood pressure and cause heart failure, as research found long-term use of the medication causes chemical reactions in the body that place extra strain on the heart.
Researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital last December found that taking paracetamol just twice a week could be damaging their hearing permanently. They claim the drugs cut blood supply to the inner ear and expose it to noise damage.
Just two painkillers a week for more than six years has been linked with significant hearing loss, While research earlier this week found that the drugs have relatively no effect on curing back pain. An Australian study discovered they only provide any form of relief to one in six patients who use them.