- Philippa Roxby
- health reporter
Studies have found that people with high blood pressure who take the prescription drug paracetamol may have an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
Doctors should consider the risks and benefits for patients taking the drug for several months, according to researchers at the University of Edinburgh.
They point out that it is safe to take this pain reliever for headaches and fevers.
Other experts say longer-term studies with more people are needed to confirm the findings.
Paracetamol is widely used worldwide as a short-term treatment for aches and pains, but it is also prescribed to manage chronic pain, although there is little evidence of benefit for long-term use. increase.
In Scotland, half a million people (1 in 10) were prescribed this pain reliever in 2018.
1 in 3 people in the UK have high blood pressure.
The study followed 110 volunteers, two-thirds of whom were taking high blood pressure medication.
A randomized trial asked participants to take 1 g of paracetamol 4 times a day for 2 weeks.
Studies have shown that paracetamol raises blood pressure, “one of the strongest risk factors for heart attack and stroke,” much more than a placebo, says Professor James Deere, a clinical pharmacologist in Edinburgh.
Researchers advise doctors to start giving chronic pain patients paracetamol at the lowest possible doses, and to closely monitor those at risk for high blood pressure and heart disease.
Principal Investigator Dr Iain MacIntyre, consultant clinical pharmacology at NHS Lothian, explains:
Dr Dipender Gill, a senior lecturer in clinical pharmacology and therapeutics at the University of London, said the study, published in the journal Circulation, found “a small but significant increase in blood pressure in white Scottish individuals”. However, “many unknowns remain.”
“First, it is unclear whether the observed blood pressure elevations persist with long-term use of paracetamol,” he continues.
“Second, we don’t know for sure whether the potential increase in blood pressure resulting from taking paracetamol leads to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease,” says Dr. Gill.
A large US study has previously linked long-term paracetamol use to an increased risk of heart attacks, but could not prove that one caused the other.
Also, other smaller studies have failed to confirm this association.
The Edinburgh team said they could not explain how paracetamol raises blood pressure, but their findings should lead to a review of long-term paracetamol prescriptions.
These drugs were previously thought to be safer than nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory pain relievers such as ibuprofen, which are thought to raise blood pressure in some people.
The British Heart Foundation, which funded the study, says doctors and patients should regularly reconsider their need for medications, even “relatively harmless ones like paracetamol”. .
Dr. Richard Francis of the Stroke Association says more studies over longer periods in people with normal, healthy blood pressure are needed “to confirm the risks and benefits of more widespread use of paracetamol.” said.