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Taking Common Pain Meds During Colds and Flu May Triple Heart Attack Risk


Researchers in Taiwan found taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, naproxen, aspirin and celecoxib, during an acute respiratory infection may triple the risk of a heart attack. The results suggest physicians and patients should think twice before using these meds to relieve the fever and aches and pains associated with colds and flu.

In the study, scientists examined data collected from 2005 to 2011 on 10,000 patients who were hospitalized with a heart attack. Earlier studies suggest acute respiratory infections and the use of NSAIDs are cardiac risk factors separately. Therefore, the research team’s objective was to determine the effect on the likelihood of a heart attack of the two risk factors combined.

“To the best of our knowledge, this study is the first to investigate the joint effects of [acute respiratory infection] and NSAIDs use on the risk of acute myocardial infarction,” the authors said.

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Combination of Illness and NSAIDs Spikes Threat to Heart

Analysis of the data showed the combined influence was, indeed, perilous. The patients who used NSAIDs during a cold or flu episode had a 3.4-fold increased risk of a heart attack, and patients who were given NSAIDs intravenously during a hospital stay had a 7.2-fold increased risk.

When the two risk factors were looked at separately, the cardiac threat wasn’t as great. The likelihood of a heart attack was 2.7-times greater in those with a respiratory infection who didn’t take NSAIDs and 1.5-times greater in patients without a respiratory infection who took NSAIDs.

“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 Dr. Cheng-Chung Fang of the National Taiwan University Hospital. Patients with cold and flu symptoms should check with their doctor before using NSAIDs, he added.

According to the researchers, the findings indicate a link rather than a cause-effect relationship. They noted that further studies are needed to assess the combined risk. The study was published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

Editorial Urges Caution

In a related editorial commentary, experts unconnected with the study said the results highlight the need for caution with the use of NSAIDs. “Clinicians should consider both medical conditions and existing medications when prescribing NSAIDs for symptomatic acute respiratory infection relief,” wrote Charlotte Warren-Gash, PhD, MRCP, of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and Jacob A. Udell, MD, MPH, of the University of Toronto.

Explanation of the Combined Risk

How does an acute respiratory infection elevate cardiac risk? The fever associated with the conditions produces a higher pulse rate and blood pressure. Furthermore, cold and flu medications on the market contain decongestants that cause the same adverse cardiovascular effects.

Only one week of NSAID use increases the risk of a heart attack or stroke, and the likelihood rises with prolonged use. Moreover, the medications increase blood pressure, promote fluid retention and raise the likelihood of heart failure.

In view of how each risk factor affects the heart separately, it’s understandable that their combined adverse effects might pose a serious threat.


Mary West is a natural health enthusiast, as she believes this area can profoundly enhance wellness. She is the creator of a natural healing website where she focuses on solutions to health problems that work without side effects. You can visit her site and learn more at Ms. West is also the author of Fight Cancer Through Powerful Natural Strategies.

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