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OBJECTIVE: To assess the effects of selective cyclo-oxygenase-2 (COX 2) inhibitors and traditional non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) on the risk of vascular events. DESIGN: Meta-analysis of published and unpublished tabular data from randomised trials, with indirect estimation of the effects of traditional NSAIDs. DATA SOURCES: Medline and Embase (January 1966 to April 2005); Food and Drug Administration records; and data on file from Novartis, Pfizer, and Merck. REVIEW METHODS: Eligible studies were randomised trials that included a comparison of a selective COX 2 inhibitor versus placebo or a selective COX 2 inhibitor versus a traditional NSAID, of at least four weeks' duration, with information on serious vascular events (defined as myocardial infarction, stroke, or vascular death). Individual investigators and manufacturers provided information on the number of patients randomised, numbers of vascular events, and the person time of follow-up for each randomised group. RESULTS: In placebo comparisons, allocation to a selective COX 2 inhibitor was associated with a 42% relative increase in the incidence of serious vascular events (1.2%/year v 0.9%/year; rate ratio 1.42, 95% confidence interval 1.13 to 1.78; P = 0.003), with no significant heterogeneity among the different selective COX 2 inhibitors. This was chiefly attributable to an increased risk of myocardial infarction (0.6%/year v 0.3%/year; 1.86, 1.33 to 2.59; P = 0.0003), with little apparent difference in other vascular outcomes. Among trials of at least one year's duration (mean 2.7 years), the rate ratio for vascular events was 1.45 (1.12 to 1.89; P = 0.005). Overall, the incidence of serious vascular events was similar between a selective COX 2 inhibitor and any traditional NSAID (1.0%/year v 0.9%/year; 1.16, 0.97 to 1.38; P = 0.1). However, statistical heterogeneity (P = 0.001) was found between trials of a selective COX 2 inhibitor versus naproxen (1.57, 1.21 to 2.03) and of a selective COX 2 inhibitor versus non-naproxen NSAIDs (0.88, 0.69 to 1.12). The summary rate ratio for vascular events, compared with placebo, was 0.92 (0.67 to 1.26) for naproxen, 1.51 (0.96 to 2.37) for ibuprofen, and 1.63 (1.12 to 2.37) for diclofenac. CONCLUSIONS: Selective COX 2 inhibitors are associated with a moderate increase in the risk of vascular events, as are high dose regimens of ibuprofen and diclofenac, but high dose naproxen is not associated with such an excess.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





1302 - 1308


Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal, Atherosclerosis, Cyclooxygenase 2 Inhibitors, Humans, Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic, Risk Assessment, Risk Factors, Thrombosis