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Prescription Pain Pills Linked to Irregular Heartbeat

Update Date: Apr 10, 2014 10:06 AM EDT

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are commonly prescribed for patients dealing with inflammation or pain. Despite how often people use NSAIDS, a new study found that this group of pain relievers might be tied to a heart condition known as atrial fibrillation, which occurs when the heart beats at a fast and irregular rhythm.

In this study, the researchers, headed by Bouwe Krijthe, of the Department of Epidemiology at Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, analyzed a wide variety of NSAIDs, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, Toradol, Aleve and Celebrex. The team studied 8,423 participants who had an average age of 68 at the beginning of the study and did not have atrial fibrillation. The participants were monitored over an average of 13 years. Data on NSAIDs use were taken from prescription records.

During the follow-up period, 857 participants were diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. 261 of the patients never used NSAIDs, 554 of them had used NSAIDs in the past and 42 of them were currently taking the drugs. The researchers found that participants who used NSAIDs were 1.8 times more likely to be diagnosed with atrial fibrillation in comparison to people who did not take the pain relievers. People who were chronic and current users had a 76 percent increased risk of atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation was detected using ECG assessments, which were tests that recorded heartbeat, and medical records.

"Use of NSAIDs has been shown to be associated with heart disease, kidney disease and increased risk of heart failure and heart failure hospitalizations," Dr. Gregg Fonarow, a professor of cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a spokesman for the American Heart Association, said.

The researchers stated that even though the findings only suggest a correlation and not a cause and effect relationship, discussing one's risk of developing atrial fibrillation with a primary care physician is important. Atrial fibrillation has been tied to an increased risk of stroke and heart failure.

"Further studies are needed to evaluate use of NSAIDs and risk of atrial fibrillation," Dr. Fonarow commented according to WebMD.

The study, "Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and the risk of atrial fibrillation: a population-based follow-up study," was published in BMJ Open.

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