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Another Painkiller Said to Increase Risk of Heart Attack

A U.S. study of a popular pain reliever has been halted after it was found to increase the risk of heart problems. The painkiller, called Aleve, is in a class of pain relievers that has been cited for potentially causing heart problems.

Aleve is part of a class of painkillers used worldwide for its ability to provide quick, sustained relief. The drug, also known as naproxen, was being tested by the U.S. National Institute on Aging to see whether it slowed progression of Alzheimer's disease when the negative data surfaced. The tests showed that those who took naproxen had a 50 percent increased risk of suffering heart attack and stroke.

Another painkiller used in the study, Celebrex, has been linked to possible heart problems in a previous study, but that risk did not show up in the Aleve trial. Celebrex and two other drugs, Vioxx and Bextra, are part of a new class of prescription-only pain killers, known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. All are now suspected of causing serious coronary problems. They are being investigated by federal officials who may now also include naproxen in their investigations.

Unlike the others, naproxen is available without a prescription. William White is a cardiologist at the University of Connecticut Health Center. Dr. White says so far, the drug studies show a tiny increase in so-called heart events that might have occurred anyway. "The general definition of events in these studies - that last for anywhere from two to three or four years - are heart attacks, strokes, and death from one of these diseases," he said. "So, it is a composite, or an aggregate, of these various events. And when we look at these studies, we are literally talking about a handful occurring in one of these treatment arms."

So far, only Vioxx has been voluntarily removed from the market by the manufacturer. Federal officials are recommending people take only the recommended doses of anti-inflammatory drugs, and consult with their doctors if they have any questions. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will hold a hearing of outside experts on non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in a meeting in February.