Press coverage last week of a study on non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) “presents pharmacists with the opportunity to have a review” with patients taking both regular and occasional doses of painkillers, said Helen Williams, consultant pharmacist for cardiovascular disease at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.
"Terrible”-looking headlines – reporting that over-the-counter painkiller sales increase the risk of heart failure by nearly 20% – have the potential to scare patients off taking common NSAIDs such as ibuprofen, naproxen and diclofenac, Ms Williams told C+D last Friday (September 30).
While the study on painkillers, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), suggests that taking a prescription for any NSAID increases the risk of being hospitalised with heart failure by 19%, the findings should not be a concern for younger patients, she stressed.
“It’s important to note that the average age in the study was 77,” Ms Williams said. “So this doesn’t really apply to our younger patients who are coming to pharmacies to buy ibuprofen for sports injuries.”
Ms Williams said elderly patients are most likely being prescribed painkillers by their GPs for long-term health problems. “Pharmacists often know their regular customers” and so are well-placed to monitor and advise those taking significant amounts of NSAIDs, she pointed out.
Pharmacists should recommend the lowest doses and the shortest courses of painkillers to ease symptoms, she added.
Ms Williams offered some tips for pharmacists looking to dispel the myths around ibuprofen use: