Study finds 15% of adults taking dangerous doses of painkillers

by Leo Almazora12 Feb 2018

A US study suggests that many adults who use non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen are putting themselves at risk of serious side effects.

Some 15% of adults taking ibuprofen, aspirin, naproxen, and other NSAIDs have been found to take more than the recommended daily dose, which increases the threat of symptoms like internal bleeding and heart attacks, reported Reuters.

“NSAIDs are among the most commonly used medicines in the US and worldwide,” said lead study author Dr. David Kaufman of Boston University. “These drugs can have serious side-effects, including gastrointestinal bleeding and heart attacks, and are often taken without medical oversight because many products are available over-the-counter.”

The study, published in the journal Pharmacoepidemiology & Drug Safety, took data from 1,326 people who reported using ibuprofen over the previous month. The participants completed daily medication diaries over a week, during which all subjects took ibuprofen and 87% only used non-prescription versions.

Fifty-five per cent of the participants took ibuprofen on at least three days of the week, and 16% were daily users. Thirty-seven per cent of participants reported taking at least one other NSAID, most typically aspirin or naproxen, during the week, but less than half of them knew that all the medications they were taking were NSAIDs.

While the study is limited — it focused only on recent and current ibuprofen users, who may not behave the same as sporadic or new users — it highlighted a potential downside of the wide over-the-counter availability of NSAIDs.

“I believe that the message sent to the consumer when these drugs are widely available in convenience stores and gas stations is that these drugs are safe and you can use them safely for pain relief — thus no need for reading the label,” said Dr. Gunnar Gislason, director of research for the Danish Heart Foundation in Cophenhagen, who wasn’t involved in the study.

“If the recommended dosage does not give sufficient pain relief, it is easier to take more pills than seeking professional advice from a healthcare person or doctor," he added.

Off-label use could also be a problem. “[W]e know that many people use NSAIDs for indications other than pain, such as flu, allergies, fever — and there is no medical base that indicates that NSAIDs or acetaminophen are of any use under these circumstances,” said Dr. Liffert Vogt of the Academic Medical Center at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

According to CBC News, the Health Canada website recommends that ibuprofen product users not take more than 1,200 milligrams per day, and that they should not take the medicine for more than seven days.


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