ONE OF Australia's best-selling painkillers should be banned, according to the co-author of a study that linked it to an increased chance of stroke in healthy people.
Commonly sold as Voltaren, but available in a number of brands, it is one of a class of drugs found by a Danish study to increase the risk of stroke.
Diclofenac, the key ingredient in Voltaren, is as dangerous as the arthritis drug Vioxx, said study author and senior cardiologist at Gentofte University Hospital, Gunnar Gislason.
Vioxx was withdrawn in Australia in 2004 because of an increased risk of heart attack.
The eight-year study examined data from more than 2.6 million Danes who had a prescription for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
The study found diclofenac, increased the risk of stroke by 86 per cent in people not previously thought to be at risk.
Another drug in the same class, ibuprofen, sold as Nurofen and Advil, was linked to a 30 per cent increased risk of stroke when more than 1200 milligrams were taken.
Dr Gislason, said ibuprofen should be prescription-only and diclofenac should be banned.
Ric Day, a professor of clinical pharmacology at the University of New South Wales, said people at risk of heart attack and stroke ''should be properly informed that at high doses the drugs could be dangerous''.
David Henry, an adjunct professor at the University of Newcastle, said diclofenac had consistently been shown to pose the same heart attack risk as Vioxx.
''There is no good reason why diclofenac should stay on the market, but drug regulation authorities have not taken it on as an issue,'' he said.
A spokeswoman for the Therapeutic Goods Administration said it had received eight reports of heart attacks and one of angina in patients taking diclofenac where a causal association was suspected. There had been none in patients taking ibuprofen.
A spokeswoman from Novartis Australia, which makes Voltaren, said the company did not believe the findings altered the benefit-to-risk assessment for diclofenac.
She said the drug should be used at the lowest possible dose for the shortest duration, in accordance with the doctor's or pharmacist's directions.