Painkiller May Raise Stroke Risk by 40 Percent

In Featured Article, Health Warning, Heart and Cardiovascular, Stroke

If you’re in pain you expect your doctor to give you something that’s going to help–not hurt–you. And while you know that most drugs have side effects…you expect the benefits to outweigh the risks.

Certainly that’s what drug makers will tell you.

“The benefits outweigh the risks…as long as a doctor is consulted,” says drug maker Novartis.

But emerging research shows this may not be true…at least not in the case of Novartis.

A new study reveals that one of their simple painkillers increases your risk of heart attack…by 40 percent. The findings also show that larger amounts of the drug–as prescribed by doctors–could raise your risk of stroke by a whopping 98 percent.

“There is a clear increase in risk as the dose goes up,” says Dr. Patricia McGettigan. She leads research at Hull York Medical School and is behind the new study.

“We have reviewed all the previous studies and are confident that the results are robust enough to inform clinical decisions,” she says.

Despite these findings…Novartis still says its pain killer is worth the risk.

“In our view, this analysis does not change the favorable benefit-to-risk assessment,” says Novartis.

And the drug maker says people who are worried should just to talk to their doctor.

Yet a Novartis employee-turned-whistleblower says you might want to think twice about doing that. He says the company works with doctors to upsell and prescribe its pain killers.

So what are you supposed to believe…when there are so many contradictory stories out there?

We’ve gone undercover to answer that question.

Stay with us as we look at the risk-to-benefit ratio…and investigate why some doctors may be promoting these drugs.

The Core of Pain

Dr. McGettigan looked at many different types of pain killers. And she studied how they affect you. She reviewed 51 international studies covering 2.7 million patients. And she’s just published her findings in the September issue of PLoS Medicine.

It’s the first study to measure the risks of different pain killers. And she says drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen pose little risk to your heart. But that’s not the case for all pain killers.

“Doctors benefit from know(ing) the balance between benefit and harm for individual (pain killers),” says Dr. McGettigan.

That’s because some drugs like diclofenac–which is put out by Novartis–is much riskier.

The drug is also known as Voltaren. And it was the most prescribed pain killer in Britain last year. Out of 17 million pain prescriptions written last year, six million were for diclofenac. And that doesn’t include over-the-counter use…

“The risk is well described but often overlooked,” says Dr. McGettigan. “Use of diclofenac will increase (risk) by 40 per cent. In other words…one in 50 patients might suffer an avoidable heart attack.”

Based on her statistics that’s a lot of avoidable heart attacks. In fact…120,000…just in Britain alone.

Industry Response

Despite her findings…the medical industry doesn’t seem too concerned,

“The risks for heart patients taking certain painkillers have been known for some time,” says Doireann Maddock. She’s a senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation.

“Drug regulators will need to delve deeper before we draw any conclusions about these drugs and their side effects,” she says.

But some experts disagree. They say the evidence is already clear.

“It’s time to act,” says Professor David Henry. He leads research at the University of Newcastle in New South Wales.

He says it’s time to take action.

“The studies have been done,” he says. “Many of them in hundreds (and) thousands of people.”

And he points to several different studies that show these drugs are risky.

One independent study linked these drugs to increased heart risk. It was conducted by the Copenhagen University in Denmark. Researchers looked at the effects of several pain killers on 84,000 patients.

“Our results indicate that there is no safe window,” says study author Anne-Marie Schjerning Olsen.

And again…her findings were most damning against diclofenac. She found it to be almost three times as risky as any other pain killer.

Another study comes from Dr. Emil Loldrup Fosbøl at Gentofte University Hospital. His study ran for eight years and looked at 2.5 million people on painkillers.

He found…yet again…that diclofenac had a much higher risk. This time by 86 percent. And more surprisingly…in people with no history of risk.

His findings were published in the June 2010 edition of Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

“The primary message concerns diclofenac, because there is so much evidence now that this is a problem,” says Dr. Fosbøl. “It has been shown quite extensively in many reports.”

Plenty of experts have had the chance to review the study since it was published.

Dr. Florian Krötz leads research at the University Hospital Munich, Germany. He wasn’t involved with the study but did review the findings.

And he says, “concerning diclofenac, I agree with the increased risk of (heart) death that the authors found…”

Even Store-Bought Pain Killers are Risky

Despite the evidence against the drug…anyone can get hold of it. It doesn’t have to be prescribed. And there are several forms that you can buy over the counter.

Studies show that these over-the-counter versions offer less risk. But they’re still not safe.

One such version is Voltarol Pain-Eze. That’s a gel used for general aches and pains. You can get it in stores…but it still increases heart attack risk by 22 percent.

Dr. Henry says the lower risk comes from the lower strength of the drug. But this doesn’t make it OK.

“There’s no reason to have it on the market, whether it’s prescription or over the counter,” he says. “There are safer alternatives.”

And Dr. Fosbøl agrees.

“Diclofenac has been used for almost 50 years and is available over the counter in many countries, which I think is irrational,” he says. “This is a major public health concern.”

So with so many studies against it…and so many experts saying it’s far too risky, why is it still on the market? And why are doctors still prescribing it?

Who Really Benefits?

Last year diclofenac brought in $791 million for Novartis. That’s not including over-the-counter revenue. And according to IMS Health…over-the-counter sales soared in 2009 by $264 million–just in the US alone.

Now a former Novartis employee-turned whistle blower is saying that’s because the drug maker will do anything to promote its product.

He was a highly placed employee at Novartis for six years…before turning whistle blower.

“The company’s illegal practices were snowballing and nobody was stepping up to stop them,” says Jeremy Garrity.

He was joined by three other employees in speaking out against the company. And the drug maker eventually paid them $25 million to settle their claims. The payout was part of a $422.5 million settlement to resolve criminal and civil investigations into the marketing of its drugs.

Novartis pled guilty in federal court and agreed to pay $185 million in fines. It also agreed to pay $237.5 million to resolve civil allegations for wrongfully promoting some of its drugs, and for paying kickbacks to doctors to prescribe them.

Garrity says the company recruited doctors to promote its drugs. It paid them for doing so and disguised them as consulting fees. He also say doctors who wrote high volumes of prescriptions were recruited as speakers and rewarded.

“As long as they had a prescription pad and were willing to prescribe our products, they qualified as speakers,” he says.

Garrity points to a specific meeting that happened in Las Vegas in 2006.

The president of Novartis sales announced that they needed to have the most events and programs in the drug industry.

“If we had more events, we would have more market share,” he explains.

So the company set up events and dinners to win over doctors…with only one goal.

“You want to convince doctors to write prescriptions,” says Garrity.

He even says doctors were given pre-written speeches by the drug company to promote the drugs.

“What they were doing was wrong,” he says. “It’s wrong to pay doctors to write prescriptions for drugs.”

All-Natural Treatment

Experts who followed the trial have spoken out about how drug makers promote pain killers.

“Novartis clearly had a plan of bribing doctors to increase sales,” says Patrick Burns. He’s a spokesman for Taxpayers Against Fraud.

And plenty of doctors say you should be wary about the drug.

“Patients need to know that this drug increases the risk of cardiovascular adverse events,” says Dr. Fosbøl.

So what can you do if you’re in pain? After all it’s a big problem for lots of people. At some point we’re all likely to suffer from it. Everyone has aches and pains. Especially with age…but you don’t have to put you heart or life at risk.

One safe and proven all-natural supplement for pain is Devil’s Claw. It acts as a natural anti-inflammatory. And the best part of it is…it comes with no side effects.

We’ve written about this in the past…and how it’s used for treating arthritis and back pain. You can read more about it here.

Protecting your heart is another big issue…there’s so much contradictory information on it. Recent research shows that most of the advice that your doctor gives you is based on flawed assumptions. And the way he treats heart health is just as flawed.

We’ve just produced an in-depth report looking at the newest findings from the most credible institutions like Harvard and Berkley to see what they say about heart health.

This research shows that if you do everything your doctor tells you to protect your heart…you may actually be damaging it.

In the Heart Disease Scam we show you why conventional doctors have got heart disease wrong…and bring you comprehensive advice–direct from the best doctors and medical centers–on the safest and most effective ways to strengthen your heart.

To find out how you can get that report… click here.