Short-term use of painkiller drugs in the same family as ibuprofen does not increase the risk of having a heart attack, according to the results of a study published in the open access journal BMC Medicine.

The results confirm that taking traditional non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) at the recommended dose for less than a year does not increase the risk of having a heart attack.

There has been debate over the safety of NSAIDs since the withdrawal of Merck & Co’s COX-2 inhibitor Vioxx (rofecoxib) from the market after data linked it to a doubling of heart attack risk. In the summer a study published in the British Medical Journal courted controversy after it found additional evidence of an elevated risk of heart attack with the COX-2s, but also two non-selective NSAIDs, ibuprofen and diclofenac.

When taken regularly for more than one year, however, some traditional NSAIDs can slightly increase the risk of non-fatal heart attack, but this does not apply to ibuprofen or naproxen, two of the most widely-used NSAIDs, according to the authors of the study.

Luis Garcia Rodriguez and Antonio Gonzalez-Perez from the Centro Espanol de Investigacion Farmacoepidemiologica in Madrid, Spain, studied NSAID use in 4,975 patients who had had a heart attack and 20,000 healthy control individuals.

Their results show that taking NSAIDs for less than a year does not increase the risk of heart attack, but regular NSAID use for longer than one year raised the risk of non-fatal heart attack by 20%. Of the three NSAIDs studied, ibuprofen seemed to have no effect on heart attack rates, diclofenac was associated with a slight increase and naproxen seemed to have a small protective effect, according to the researchers.