MILLIONS of people taking common painkillers may be increasing their risk of heart attack or stroke, experts warned yesterday.
High doses of drugs including ibuprofen are prescribed to patients suffering conditions such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
But research into their long-term use shows that they can pose a slightly higher risk to patients.
Now the Commission on Human Medicines have written to health workers explaining the findings of the study on so-called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS).
However, officials added that the benefits of NSAIDS still outweighed any potential problems.
They said all medicines marketed in the European Union were continually monitored.
Dr June Raine, of the Government's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), said: "NSAIDs are important medicines and the balance of benefits and risks remains positive.
"The lowest effective dose of NSAIDs should be taken for the shortest time necessary for control of symptoms.
"There is no need for patients to stop taking their medicines and there is no urgent need for patients to switch between NSAIDs if they are feeling well.
"Anyone who is concerned about their treatment should talk to their doctor."
Dr Colin Baigent, who directed the research for the UK's Medical Research Council, said a high dose was considered to be "about twice what the normal person would take".
He added: "People who are popping these for the odd headache, the risks to them are minimal."
Dr Phil Berry, of Reckitt Benckiser Health care International, who make Nurofen, said: "Over-the-counter ibuprofen is used by millions of people around the world every day and there is no reason for the public to have any concerns over its safety."
The latest warning on NSAIDs comes two years after another painkiller, Vioxx, was banned.
The drug, part of a group of anti-inflammatories known as COX-2 inhibitors, was found to double the risk of heart attacks.
In June, research published in the British Medical Journal showed that NSAIDs ibuprofen and diclofenac increased the risk of heart attacks when taken in high doses.
University researchers in Oxford and Rome found that when all "vascular events" - heart attacks, stroke or vascular disease - were taken together, the risks increased by 40 per cent for people on the drugs.
They found there were three more heart attacks per 1000 people every year in those who did not already have heart disease but who were taking COX-2 inhibitors or NSAIDs.
Non-selective Nsaids reviewed:
diclofenac, etodolac, ibuprofen, indomethacin, ketoprofen, ketorolac, meloxicam, nabumetone,
naproxen, nimesulide, piroxicam (still being assessed)