Indiscriminate Use of Common Painkillers High among Indians; May Increase Risk of Heart Disease

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  • Dr Upendra Kaul, Executive Director & Dean, Fortis Escorts Heart Institute and Research Centre And Fortis Hospital, Vasant Kunj.
  • People living with chronic excruciating pains such as arthritis, sinus infections, migraines often consume painkillers regularly over prolonged periods

Do you frequently use common painkillers such as Asprin or Ibuprofen without prescription to treat everyday stomach aches, frequent migraine headaches or joint pains? Have you been doing it for years? If yes, you might be inadvertently raising your risk of several diseases including heart attack and stroke.

Common painkillers are a usual part of our daily lives. From headaches to cramps to runner’s knees, they provide relief to a variety of daily aches. Non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) also reduce inflammation and fever and provide rather quick relief. However, since they are available over-the-counter without prescription, many people tend to believe that they are completely safe and can be consumed at will. This is a misperception and the ensuing indiscriminate use may cause several health hazards.

Eating a painkiller or two once in a while is absolutely fine. In fact, doctors themselves prescribe NSAIDs to patients for short term usage. However, what becomes problematic is their persistent use over a long period of time.

A number of people deal with excruciating pain on a daily basis. People with sinus infections, migraines, arthritis and associated joint pains, backaches or cramps in menstruating women are phenomenon that are common. In many cases, such people find themselves compelled to pop up a painkiller pill to be able to take the day to its conclusion.

“In our daily dealings with patients, we encounter a number of such instances. There is a high usage of over-the-counter drugs on a daily basis which sometimes amounts to indiscriminate use. As such the OTC market is not well regulated in India and a number of painkillers, stimulants or even anti depressants are available freely in the market. Sometimes, patients become addicted to their usage. At other times, they continue popping them up regularly for pain relief for years without realizing the side effects they may be having on their internal systems. Excess long term use of painkillers and other pills is associated with increased risk of kidney and liver dysfunction, stomach ulcers, allergies, resistance to drugs as well as stroke and heart attacks,”

Earlier this year, the Indian medical Association issues guidelines on painkillers and OTC drugs, advocating against prolonged and unprescribed usage lest it causes more harm than good. IMA clearly stated against the common perception that drugs like paracetamol or aspirin can be consumed for pain or fever without consulting a doctor.

Over the years, several studies have established links between indiscriminate usage of OTC drugs and health complications over time. A wide scale Dutch study published in British Medical Journal in 2014, and conducted over 8,000 people during a period of 13 years, concluded that common painkillers doubled the risk of atrial fibrillation or irregular heartbeat.

“Some people often avoid visiting doctors in case of a pain or a not so radical health condition. What they do is they go directly to a pharmacist and bring a common painkiller or drug prescribed not by a doctor but by a drug dealer. This strange practice is unique to India. Yet, awareness regarding this practice of self-medication is abysmally low in India, even among educated people,”

In people living with arthritis, this concern is overwhelming. Arthritis translates into daily pain, often excruciating in joints and muscles. Over years, arthritis patients tend to consume humongous amounts of painkillers, augmenting their risk of kidney failure, heart attack or stroke.

Another vital question is whether common NSAIDs are over-prescribed in the absence to local population based studies in India? Perhaps they are. Even medical practitioners must be extremely cautious and careful in prescribing common painkillers and stick to kidney and heart-safe drugs.

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