Common antibiotic linked to higher death rates for heart disease patients
Clarithromycin, sold under the brand name Biaxin, is used to treat many skin, ear, sinus and lung infections.
But a 10-year study revealed that people suffering from heart disease that took a two-week course of it had a significantly higher risk of heart attack or sudden death a year or more after they were treated for infection.
The agency first cautioned against clarithromycin back in 2005, but its long-term study confirms that the antibiotic could do far more harm than good for patients with heart problems.
Clarithromycin belongs to a family of antibiotics called macrolides, which fight infections by blocking protein production in bacteria.
Both clarithromycin and azithromycin – another common drug in the same family, sold as Z-Pak – are broad-spectrum antibiotics, meaning that work against many infections.
A previous 14-year study of Z-Pak found that taking it more than doubled the risk of death for heart disease patients.
Clarithromycin has been used with FDA-approval for the last 25 years, and typically comes with only mild side effects, like stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea or a bad taste in the mouth.
But recent research has linked them both to faster heart rates, heart attacks and risks of sudden death.
The FDA became aware of this pattern more than a decade ago, initiating long-term studies to test whether or not there was a solid link between clarithromycin and deaths in people with heart disease.
It issued a preliminary warning in 2005, and continued to see a notably higher rate of deaths among heart disease patients that had taken the drug for two weeks than in those that took a placebo in its clinical trial.
The trial did not explore how exactly the antibiotic interacts with the bodies of people with heart disease to become potentially fatal.
Respiratory infections have been shown, in some studies, to raise the risk of heart attack by as much as 17 percent, so it is key that heart disease patients get effective treatment for them quickly, but the FDA’s trial suggests that clarithromycin could pose a similar risk to infection itself.
“Health care professionals should be aware of these significant risks and weigh the benefits and risks of clarithromycin before prescribing it to any patient, particularly in patients with heart disease and even for short periods, and consider using other available antibiotics,” the FDA wrote.
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