Heart risk drug 'overused'

13 February 2013

A painkiller known to increase the risk of heart attack and stroke may be overprescribed, a study has found.

Diclofenac, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), was found to be a common choice over other painkillers despite its higher risk of side effects.

The study of 15 countries, published in the journal PLOS Medicine, found that diclofenac prescriptions and sales were three times higher than that of naproxen, a much safer alternative.

Researchers and health bodies are calling for diclofenac, used to treat conditions like arthritis, to be removed from national drug lists.

In 2004, a similar NSAID, Vioxx (rofecoxib), was taken off the market amid concerns over associated heart problems.

Patricia McGettigan from Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, which was involved in the study, said: "Diclofenac has no advantage in terms of gastrointestinal safety and it has a clear cardiovascular disadvantage."

Speaking to the BBC, Justin Mason, a professor of vascular rheumatology at Imperial College London, said there could be some cases when diclofenac is a good option, although there are other painkillers that may be considered safer.

"We need to understand these types of drugs on an individual basis rather than tarnish them all with the same brush," he said.

Posted by Jeanette Royston

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