People such as arthritis sufferers, who take the painkillers for long periods and at high doses, are especially at risk, say researchers from Oxford University.
The NSAIDs (non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs) and the newer generation of COX-2 inhibitors-including ibuprofen and diclofenac-can increase the risk of heart disease and heart attack by around 30 per cent.
This roughly translates into three additional cases of heart disease, including one that results in death, for every 1000 people taking the drugs every year. The one major exception appeared to be naproxen, which didn't increase the risk of heart disease.
The researchers made their worrying findings after they analysed 639 studies of NSAIDs, which involved more than 353,000 patients.
As well as people taking high doses for long periods, others at special risk were those who already have an increased risk of heart disease, such as smokers and those with high levels of cholesterol or blood pressure. Those who already have double the risk of heart disease compared to a healthy person will see their risk double again if they take a high-dose pain killer for an extended period, say researchers.
(Source: The Lancet, 2013; 30 May, doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(13)60900-9).