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Smoking drug heart link

Tuesday July 5th, 2011

A commonly used anti-smoking drug may carry a small risk of causing heart disease, British researchers warned last night.

The drug varenicline, sold as Chantix, is backed by the British authorities to help heavy smokers give up - and 70,000 prescriptions are issued monthly.

The study at Norwich Medical School, Norfolk, UK found that about one per cent of users suffered serious heart problems.

Part of the aim is to reduce the high risk of heart disease caused by smoking - and experts were divided last night about whether smokers should switch from the drug.

Researcher Dr Yoon Loke said that the drug would cause additional health problems to about one in 28 of those users who already have heart problems.

The findings, reported in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, come from an analysis of some 14 trials involving some 8,200 smokers - who were otherwise healthy. The researchers found a 72 per cent increase in the risk of serious heart attack.

Dr Loke said: "Long-term trials are now needed to determine whether or not the overall health benefits of this drug outweigh the risks.

"In the meantime, I would advise people taking Varenicline not to stop taking their medication suddenly, but to discuss any concerns with their doctor – particularly if they already have any heart-related health problems."

He added: "Though the actual numbers of patients developing heart problems on Varenicline is relatively low, these are life-threatening diseases and so any increased risk should be carefully avoided – particularly as heavy smokers are already susceptible to cardiovascular disease."

Doireann Maddock, of the British Heart Foundation, said: “People using Varenicline to help them to stop smoking should not stop using it because of this study alone but should chat to their GP about it and the options available.”

However US researchers involved in the study were more forthright - calling for smokers to find other ways to quit. They say the drug is also linked to complaints about mental health problems.

Dr Sonal Singh, of the Johns Hopkins University Medical Center, Baltimore, USA, said: "People should be concerned. They don't need Chantix to quit and this is another reason to consider avoiding Chantix altogether."

Risk of serious adverse cardiovascular events associated with varenicline: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Sonal Singh et al. Canadian Medical Association Journal July 4 2011. DOI:10.1503/cmaj.110218

Tags: Drug and Alcohol Abuse | Heart Health | North America | Pharmaceuticals | UK News

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