Inhaler Drugs Increase Risk of Heart Attacks, Death
People taking inhaled drugs to treat a widespread lung condition may be at increased risk of heart attack and death, according to a Veterans Affairs study conducted by researchers from Wake Forest University and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The researchers analyzed the results of 17 different studies on the risks of inhaled drugs for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD involves excess mucus and thickened, narrowed airways, combining the symptoms of emphysema and chronic bronchitis. According to Aaron Milstone of Vanderbilt University Medical School, this leads patients to feel as if they are “living the entire day under water, unable to come to the surface.”
COPD affects 24 million people in the United States and kills more than 100,000, making it the country’s fourth leading killer.
The researchers found that patients who were taking inhaler drugs to treat COPD had a 1.8 percent chance of developing heart disease, in contrast with only 1.2 percent of COPD patients who had been given other drugs or placebos. This would translate into one extra death for every 40 patients who used the inhalers for one year, the researchers said.
The drugs in question are ipratropium (marketed by Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals as Atrovent) and tiotropium (jointly marketed by Boehringer and Pfizer as Spiriva Handihaler).
Earlier this year, Boehringer and Pfizer told the FDA that their product might increase the risk of stroke, but they later retracted that claim, saying it was based on an improper analysis of data.
Because other drugs for the treatment of COPD also have potentially serious side effects, the study authors stopped short of recommending that patients discontinue the use of inhaled medications. Instead, they recommended that patients attempt to improve their cardiovascular health before beginning the drugs, through measures such as quitting smoking, using oxygen and controlling cholesterol and blood pressure.
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