You may be quick to reach for a painkiller at the first sign of a headache or menstrual cramps, but a new study suggests that you may want to think twice before taking prescription versions of the drug too often. The research found that people who take prescribed non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) could raise their risk of having a heart attack, without even knowing it.

The study, published online now in The BMJ found that people who are prescribed NSAIDs to treat their pain and inflammation may be raising their risk of having a heart attack. The study reported that this risk was especially high within the first month of taking high doses of these drugs. In addition, this risk may still remain even in the case of over-counter doses of common painkillers, CNN reported. Although previous research has identified this increase heart health risk with taking certain NSAIDs, this study is the first to show just how quickly these risks can occur.

Read: Ibuprofen Raises Cardiac Arrest Risk; NSAID Should Be Sold Only In Pharmacies, Study Says

For the study, an international team of researchers led by Michèle Bally of the University of Montreal Hospital Research Center (CRCHUM) in Canada carried out a review and meta-analysis of various healthcare databases in Canada, Finland, and the United Kingdom. In doing so, they determined that using NSAIDS increased the risk of a heart attack between 20 and 50 percent. The report found that any dose of NSAID for one week, one month, or more than a month was assocaited with increased risk of a heart attack. Risk did not seem to increase with longer use after the first month.

Painkiller medications may not be as harmless as you are led to believe. Photo Courtesy of Pixabay

"We found that all common NSAIDs shared a heightened risk of heart attack," Bally, told CNN. "There is a perception that naproxen has the lowest cardiovascular risk (among the NSAIDs), but that's not true."

The study’s purpose is not to necessarily stop people from using these drugs.The findings are based on observational data, so it cannot be said for sure whether the drug was the direct cause for this heart attack risk. The team was only able to conclude with greater than 90 percent probability that all NSAIDs studied are associated with this heightened risk. The team only hope their findings will help both doctors and patients weigh these risks before using these drugs, CNN reported.

“Given that the onset of risk of acute myocardial infarction occurred in the first week and appeared greatest in the first month of treatment with higher doses, prescribers should consider weighing the risks and benefits of NSAIDs before instituting treatment, particularly for higher doses," the researchers concluded, as reported in a recent statement.

Source: Bally M, Dendurkuri N, Rich B, et al. Risk of acute myocardial infarction with NSAIDs in real world use: bayesian meta-analysis of individual patient data. The BMJ. 2017

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