The Faculty of Pain Medicine carefully considers all new research and its impact on safe and effective patient care. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are widely used and effective group of painkillers, and their role in short and long-term pain management is important. However, the links between NSAIDs and any side effects are complex. There are examples, such as low dose aspirin, which have been shown to reduce the risks of heart attacks and strokes. Nevertheless, NSAIDs are not without risk and their adverse effects on the stomach, kidneys and heart are well researched and documented.
There is also a concern that the impact of pain is being forgotten in the discussion of this research. The role of pain in causing harm and increasing mortality as a result of long-term pain problems is not well understood. Further research is required to fully evaluate these issues, so any potential side-effects resulting from medication can be balanced against the harm caused by untreated pain.
This new research focuses attention on the association between short term use of NSAIDs and an increased risk of heart attack, but, as the researchers themselves concede, the relationship is far from clear. We do not know if this is a direct result of the medication or from patients taking painkillers in the early and unrecognised phases of a serious health problem, before presenting to hospital.
It is important that doctors prescribing NSAIDS, and individuals taking them, consider using the lowest effective dose, for the shortest possible time to alleviate pain and that the risks and benefits of their use are considered for each patient's needs.