Researchers are issuing a new warning to doctors today concerning common over-the-counter pain medications. Prescribing NSAIDs (everything from ibuprofen, naproxen to meloxicam) appears to be linked to increased risk for the most common type of heart arrhythmia, atrial fibrillation or AFib, according to a recently released Taiwanese study.

When a person has AFib, the normal beating in the upper chambers of the heart is irregular, restricting blood flow to the lower chambers. AFib may occur in brief episodes, or it may be a permanent condition.

The number of persons with AFib is on the rise. An estimated 2.7 to 6.1 million people in the United States have AFib. With the aging of the U.S. population, this number is expected to increase.

The study of more than 57,000 individuals from Taiwan ages 45 and older analyzed national data sets from years 2000, 2005 and 2010. People diagnosed with AFib were compared to those of same age and sex and with similar medical conditions (diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and arthritis).

Nonselective NSAIDs (ibuprofen, naproxen, or meloxicam) were associated with an 18 percent increased odds for having AFib according to the study.

Researchers looked for an association between the use of NSAIDs and the risk of AFib. The study found that those who took an NSAID for at least one day within a year of their AFib had an elevated risk of AFib.

Nonselective NSAIDs (ibuprofen, naproxen, or meloxicam) were associated with an 18 percent increased odds for having AFib, selective NSAIDs (celecoxib, etoricoxib, or rofecoxib) showed no difference, and combining selective and nonselective NSAIDs increased the odds of having AFib by 30 percent.

Authors of the study cautioned that this does not mean people should be afraid to take an NSAID for an occasional ache or pain. Rather, the objective was to warn doctors against prescribing NSAIDs for those who may be most at risk for the heart arrhythmia.

Douglas is a leading technologist & key strategist with more than two decades experience in the health care and manufacturing industries.

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