Antibiotic linked to risk of heart disease
A DRUG commonly used to treat conditions such as pneumonia could cause an increased risk of heart problems, Scottish research suggests.
A study by Dundee University found that the antibiotic clarithromycin appeared to be linked to a higher chance of suffering conditions such as heart failure or sudden cardiac death.
The researchers, writing in the British Medical Journal, said further research was needed to confirm their findings.
But they said the results added to a growing body of evidence suggesting a possible link between long-term heart risks and a certain type of antibiotic known as macrolides.
Health campaigners called for further research to see if the risks of using the drug outweighed the benefits for patients.
Clarithromycin is widely used to treat lower respiratory tract infections such as pneumonia and severe cases of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Previous studies have suggested that “cardiovascular events” – such as heart failure, heart rhythm problems or sudden cardiac death – may be increased during treatment with clarithromycin. But the long-term effects from the drug remain unclear.
The UK researchers, led by James Chalmers at Dundee University, analysed the data on 1,343 patients admitted to hospital with cases of COPD which had suddenly worsened and 1,631 patients with community acquired pneumonia.
They then compared the patients who had received at least one dose of clarithromycin during their stay in hospital with patients who did not receive any macrolide antibiotics during their visit.
In the course of one year, 268 COPD patients and 171 pneumonia patients were admitted to hospital due to suffering a heart problem.
After taking into account other factors, the researchers found that 26 per cent of patients prescribed clarithromycin due to COPD had a least one cardiovascular event. This compared to 18 per cent of those patients who did not take the drug.
Using clarithromycin for longer periods was also linked to patients suffering more heart problems.
However, the researchers said the use of other types of antibiotic was not linked to cardiovascular dangers, suggesting the risk was specific to clarithromycin alone.
Overall, the researchers said that there would be one extra heart problem for every eight patients given the antibiotic compared to patients not given the drug.
The study also suggested that the increased risk may continue after patients have stopped taking clarithromycin.
Maureen Talbot, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), said: “This study shows that, for some people, taking this antibiotic may lead to an increased risk of developing heart problems.
“However, this antibiotic may be essential to treat infections like pneumonia.”
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