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Tuesday, 7 March, 2000, 17:05 GMT
Painkillers 'kill 2,000 a year'

Commonly prescribed painkillers can cause stomach ulcers
Popular painkillers may be responsible for up to 2,000 deaths a year, a report claims.

It is known that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can irritate the stomach lining, and cause ulceration which can lead to bleeding and infections.

These drugs are often prescribed for joint problems such as arthritis, and, as ibroprofen, and aspirin, can be bought over a chemist's counter.

But scientists at The John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford claim that the risk of death among long-term NSAID users is about 1 in 2,000.

This equates to approximately 2,000 deaths linked to NSAID use a year in the UK.

However, while many of the deaths may have been precipitated by the painkillers, many of these patients are likely to have been elderly people close to death from other causes.

Every year in the UK, 8m people consult their GP with some sort of arthritis disorder, and many of these are prescribed more powerful NSAIDs over a prolonged period.

Minimum doses

The study's authors, writing in the journal Pain, said: "Patients should receive minimum effective doses for the minimum possible time."

Dr Mark Cottrill, a member of the Primary Care Society for Gastroenterology, said he had seen the effects of NSAID stomach problems first hand when examining patients with a stomach probe.

"It's a serious problem," he said. "I see the results when I look at people in hospital, but as a GP, I prescribe the drugs because they can be effective for controlling inflammation.

"But where I can, I try to disuade people from taking them."

He recommends taking paracetamol instead of ibruprofen for mild arthritic pain.

Newer drugs, called COX-2 inhibitors, have proved effective in dealing with inflammation, but without so many side-effects.

A recent study in the journal Arthritis and Rheumatism found that they were significantly less toxic than NSAIDs.

Ibruprofen and aspirin, which can be bought over the counter at a pharmacy, carry a smaller risk than stronger, prescribed NSAIDs, particularly in the case of low dose aspirin taken to improve the circulation.

However, chemists should warn users about the possible side-effects of long-term use.

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02 Mar 99 |  Health
100 years of aspirin
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