Prescription NSAID pain relievers increase risk of irregular heartbeat, study shows

Some prescription pain relievers commonly used for arthritis and other conditions may come with a concerning heart risk. A study that looks at prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatory pain relievers, or NSAIDs — like prescription-strength ibuprofen and naproxen — found that people taking them had an 18 percent higher risk of irregular heartbeat, also known as atrial fibrillation or a-fib. 

"It's important information for people, because these are commonly used drugs," said CBS News medical contributor Dr. Tara Narula, who is a cardiologist at Northwell Health. 

"A-fib means the top chambers of the heart beat chaotically. That can increase your risk of stroke and heart failure."

Aspirin is also in the class of NSAIDs, Narula said, but these medications are different from the daily aspirin many people take for cardiovascular disease, which commonly come in doses of 81 mg to 325 mg.

"At those doses, 81 mg [to] 325, there's still an increased risk of bleeding, gastrointestinal bleeding in the brain. But when you're talking about using aspirin for pain and anti-inflammatory effects, you're talking about much higher doses, like 650 milligrams to 8,000 mg. And at those doses, you are really increasing your risk of hearing loss, gastrointestinal bleeding, kidney failure, and other significant side effects," Narula said Wednesday on "CBS This Morning."

The research, published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, studied middle-aged adults in Taiwan.

Even with over-the-counter pain relievers, Narula advised it's still important to read the labels and follow the safety guidelines.

"The FDA says that if you use the over-the-counter NSAIDs as indicated, which means for less than 10 days for pain — low dose, short time — it's generally safe. The problem is, a lot of Americans don't read the labels and they don't use them that way. They take their naproxen every day from their pill that they have in their medicine cabinet for years, so they may take higher doses," Narula said.

Earlier studies have linked over-the-counter NSAIDs to a bigger chance of heart attacks and strokes.