Paracetamol should come with warnings about possible long-term health risks, say scientists

Paracetamol is widely considered to be a safe pain killer

People taking paracetamol tablets for long-term pain relief should be warned about the possible health risks to their heart, intestines and kidneys, scientists said.

Paracetamol is widely considered to be a safe pain killer but taking it for long periods for certain illnesses may pose cardiovascular, gastrointestinal and renal problems for little benefit, they found.

A review of eight studies in the medical literature has found that long-term use of paracetamol, usually in people with multiple medical problems requiring pain relief, may cause an increase risk of other health issues.

Four studies found adverse cardiovascular events, one showed an increased risk of gastrointestinal problems such as bleeding, and four found that paracetamol users were more likely than non-users to have malfunctioning kidneys.

At the same time, the benefit of taking paracetamol to treat the chronic pain associated with the joint pain of osteoarthritis and acute lower back pain is questionable, said a team led by Professor Philip Conaghan of the Leeds Institute of Rheumatic and Musculoskeletal Medicine.

“We believe the true risk of paracetamol prescription to be higher than that currently perceived in the clinical community,” the researchers concluded in a study published in the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases.

“Given its high usage and availability as an over-the-counter analgesic, a systematic review of paracetamol's efficacy and tolerability in individual conditions is warranted,” they said.

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