Stomach haemorrhages kill as many as 2,500 people in the UK every year, and leave thousands needing hospital treatment.
A line in this column questioning why vaccine-related side-effects receive so much media coverage while thousands of deaths caused by the ibuprofen family of anti-inflammatory drugs go almost unreported has prompted a huge response from readers wanting to know more — so here is the story in more detail.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) alleviate pain, soothe inflammation and reduce fevers, making them a popular choice for treating everything from flu to back pain and arthritis. Aspirin was the first member of the family to be identified but today the most widely used NSAIDs are ibuprofen (in Nurofen, Brufen and Anadin Ultra) and diclofenac (Voltarol and Fenactol).
NSAIDs work by blocking the production of chemical messengers (prostaglandins) that prompt an inflammatory response when the body is attacked or injured. They moderate this response without seeming to have a significant adverse effect on the body’s ability to defend and repair itself — or, to put it another way, taking ibuprofen for your back pain won’t slow your recovery.
But prostaglandins play a crucial role in other processes in the body, particularly in the upper part of the gut, where they help to protect the stomach lining against corrosive digestive juices. And herein lies the problem: they weaken the stomach’s defences, leading to ulceration and stomach haemorrhages that kill as many as 2,500 people in the UK every year and put many thousands more in hospital.