The most popular over-the-counter painkiller in the UK that pretty much all of us would reach for whether it be a toothache, migraine or even a high temperature – is exactly what may be heightening our chances of suffering a potentially fatal cardiac arrest  according to a new study.


Researchers in Denmark found that taking ibuprofen was associated with a 31% increased risk of a cardiac arrest, which occurs when the heart suddenly stops pumping blood.

Other medicines from the same family of painkillers, known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), posed a similar danger, according to the findings.

Embargoed to 0730 Wednesday March 15 PICTURE POSED BY MODEL File photo dated 01/02/16 of a person holding an Ibuprofen tablet. Ibuprofen can heighten the chances of suffering a potentially fatal cardiac arrest, a study has shown. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Wednesday March 15, 2017. See PA story HEALTH Painkillers. Photo credit should read: Lauren Hurley/PA Wire
Experts are warning of the risks (Picture: Lauren Hurley/PA Wire)

They included diclofenac, which raised the risk by 50%, and was available over the counter in the UK until 2015.

Today, it can only be obtained on prescription.


Heart expert Professor Gunnar Gislason, who led the study, called for tighter controls on NSAIDs.

He said: ‘Allowing these drugs to be purchased without a prescription, and without any advice or restrictions, sends a message to the public that they must be safe.

‘The findings are a stark reminder that NSAIDs are not harmless.

‘Diclofenac and ibuprofen, both commonly used drugs, were associated with significantly increased risk of cardiac arrest.

‘NSAIDs should be used with caution and for a valid indication. They should probably be avoided in patients with cardiovascular disease or many cardiovascular risk factors.

‘I don’t think these drugs should be sold in supermarkets or petrol stations where there is no professional advice on how to use them.

‘Over-the-counter NSAIDs should only be available at pharmacies, in limited quantities and in low doses.’

Ibuprofen may be linked to potentially fatal cardiac arrests
It could lead to cardiac arrest (Picture: Getty Images)

The most common cause of a cardiac arrest is a life-threatening abnormal heart rhythm called ventricular fibrillation (VF).

It causes electrical activity in the heart to become so chaotic that the organ ceases to pump rhythmically and quivers or ‘fibrillates’ instead.

Without immediate treatment to keep the circulation going, death occurs in minutes.

Sales of over-the-counter painkillers amounted to almost £600 million in the UK in 2015, according to The Pharmaceutical Journal.

The Danish investigators studied data on all patients who had an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest in the country between 2001 and 2010.




For every patient, use of NSAIDs during the month before a cardiac arrest was compared with use in the 30 days leading up to that point.

Comparing the two periods for each individual eliminated the chances of chronic conditions swaying the end result.

Prof Gislason, from Copenhagen University Hospital, warned people not to take more than 1,200 mg of ibuprofen in one day.








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