If you’ve got a cold or the flu your first point of call may be a trip to the local pharmacy, searching through shelves heaving with different brands of common painkillers. Medications like ibuprofen have become a well-oiled remedy for colds, flu, headaches and whatever else ails you. But could this form of medication actually be harmful and increase your risk of having a heart attack?
Ibuprofen and respiratory infections
The painkillers under the spotlight are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS): ibuprofen falls into this category. The researchers wanted to see whether taking NSAIDS when you have a cold or the flu, identified as acute respiratory infection (ARI), increases the chance of a having a heart attack.
Over a 7-year period, the researchers looked at data from almost 10,000 people in Taiwan who had been hospitalised because of a heart attack. The study, published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases, compared different groups including those who had taken NSAIDs during an episode of ARI, those who had an ARI episode without using NSAIDs, people who had used NSAIDs for other reasons and people who had no exposure to ARI or NSAIDs.
During analysis of these groups, they found that people who had taken NSAIDS during an episode of acute respiratory infection had 3.4 times increased risk for a heart attack. This rose to 7.2 times higher risk in people who had been given NSAIDS via a drip to treat the infection in hospital.
More research needs to be done to clarify this risk and understand how it might be managed, but study author Dr Cheng-Chung Fang warns “physicians should be aware that the use of NSAIDs during an acute respiratory infection might further increase the risk of a heart attack”.
Cold and flu remedies
They say prevention is better than cure. Your doctor may suggest some ways to prevent flu:
Ask your doctor about receiving the winter flu jab.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. A group of drugs that provide pain relief and reduce inflammation.Full medical glossary