British Heart Foundation: Understanding blood clots
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Blood clots stem the bleeding from an injury or cut so their formation is essential. However, not all blood clots are here to help – some can prove life-threatening. This type of blood clot can block crucial arteries, thereby hiking the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Worryingly, research has tied non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to the formation of blood clots.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are medicines that are widely used to relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and bring down a high temperature.
You’ll be familiar with many NSAIDS – they include ibuprofen and aspirin.
A study published in the Journal of Thrombosis and Haemostasis found the risk of developing blood clots in the legs or lungs doubles when NSAID painkillers are taken.
“What’s new about our study is that we show that patients who take NSAID medicine have a greater risk of developing blood clots in their legs or lungs. We already know from previous studies that several NSAID drugs increase the risk of cardiac fibrillation and thrombosis,” said study lead doctor and PhD student Morten Schmidt, of the Department of Clinical Epidemiology at Aarhus University Hospital.
As part of the study, Doctor Schmidt and his colleagues studied data from every single Danish patient who was hospitalised with a blood clot in the legs or lungs between 1999 and 2006.
In total, they identified 8,368 patients who had had blood clots in the legs or lungs.
They then checked how many of the patients had bought a prescribed NSAID-drug less than 60 days before they were admitted with a blood clot.
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Each of the 8,368 blood clot patients were then compared with data from a control group which consisted of ten randomly selected people of the same age and sex as the patient.
Thus, data from a total of 90,586 people was considered.
“The study showed that people taking NSAID drugs double their risk of getting a blood clot in the legs or lungs,” said Doctor Schmidt at the time of publication.
“So it appears that there is a link between the NSAID drugs and the development of this type of blood clot. But our study needs to be confirmed by other studies if we are to say for certain.”
It’s important to note that the study didn’t indicate that any particular types of NSAID drugs are best avoided to minimise the risk.
“Our study indicates that there is an increased risk of blood clots regardless of which NSAID drug the patient takes,” said Doctor Schmidt.
Other studies have also found this association.
A 2014 meta-analysis found a statistically significant increased risk of deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism in users of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which led researchers to say that these drugs should be prescribed with caution.
More research is still needed to confirm these findings and make specific recommendations based on them.
What the NHS says
Like all medicines, there’s a risk of side effects from NSAIDs.
“These tend to be more common if you’re taking high doses for a long time, or you’re elderly or in poor general health,” explains the NHS.
According to the health body, over-the-counter NSAIDs generally have fewer side effects than stronger prescription medicines.
“In rare cases, problems with your liver, kidneys or heart and circulation, such as heart failure, heart attacks and strokes,” it notes.
Other possible side effects include:
- Indigestion – including stomach aches, feeling sick and diarrhoea
- Stomach ulcers
- Allergic reactions.
“If you get any troublesome side effects, stop taking your medicine and tell your doctor,” advises the NHS.
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