Pain drug to be prescription-only
A widely-used pain-killing and anti-inflammatory drug has been reclassified as a prescription-only medicine by the healthcare regulator.
Over-the-counter sales of diclofenac tablets will stop tomorrow after the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said it was associated with a "small but increased" risk of heart problems.
The change means patients using diclofenac to treat pain and inflammation will be unable to source the tablets from pharmacies without a prescription from their doctor.
Dr Sarah Branch, the MHRA's Vigilance and Risk Management of Medicines Deputy Director, said: "Diclofenac is associated with a small but increased risk of serious cardiac side effects in some patients, particularly if used at high doses and for long-term treatment.
"Because of this the Commission on Human Medicines (CHM) has advised that patients need to have a medical review before taking oral diclofenac to make sure it is suitable for them.
"If patients have recently bought diclofenac tablets from their pharmacy and continue to need pain relief they should talk to their pharmacist about suitable alternative treatments.
"However there is no problem if they wish to stop taking diclofenac in the meantime."
Dr Branch added that people who have been prescribed diclofenac by a doctor should continue to take their medicine as instructed, as their medical history and any tests will already have been assessed.
The MHRA began a consultation on the continued availability of oral diclofenac as a pharmacy medicine in August 2013 following a European review that found it was associated with a small but significant increased risk of cardiovascular side-effects.
In 2010 diclofenac was the most commonly prescribed non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) in Britain, accounting for six million prescriptions.
Figures covering the same year showed that almost 17 million prescriptions were filled out for NSAIDs, which relieve pain caused by conditions including arthritis, gout, headaches and flu.