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The truth on the 8 drugs doctors wouldn't take

Posted Oct 01 2008 4:31pm
Shame on MSNBC for re-purposing this article originally found in Men's Health. This isn't even a survey of physician's experience with these supposedly dangerous drugs, and the expert most commonly quoted in the article is a pharmacist, not a physician. I recently mentioned the original article a week or so ago, when I posted about one of my asthmatic patients who was quite well controlled on Advair but wanted to stop the medication, because her husband had read the report. In hopes that other patients won't similarly be worried about these medications, I have listed the supposed dangers and the truth behind them below.

As a physician, these kind of reports really anger me. I am sure they sell magazines or newspaper, but cause needless worry for patients and potential harm. For example, for those patients taking Avandia, sales data indicate that though some patients switched to other agents when media reports surfaced about a potential harm, many patients simply stopped taking Avandia. In many cases, patients stopped the medication, without consulting with their physician. This would cause their sugars to go up, potentially causing many complications. I am really surprised that a legitimate news organization like NBC would post such a piece on its website.

Advair
Their claim: Advair "may contribute to as many as 5,000 asthma-related deaths in the United States each year."

The truth: This stat comes from the discussion section of a publication that did an analysis of studies (meta-analysis) containing salmeterol, a component of Advair. The truth is that study never answered the question of Advair safety. I outline all of the data in my recent post Good News for Asthma Patients, but the bottom line is that issue really only concerns salmeterol taken alone. When taken together with fluticasone (Advair is fluticasone +salmeterol) not only is it safe, but it is also one of the most effective medications for asthma. Since the introduction of medications like Advair the asthma death rate (4,000 is the correct number) has actually declined, not increased!

Advandia
Their claim: For the diabetes drug Avandia (rosiglitazone) "people who took rosiglitazone for at least a year increased their risk of heart failure or a heart attack by 109 percent and 42 percent."

The truth: Avandia (and other TZD's like Actos) do in fact increase fluid retention that can lead to heart failure in those at risk. This is a well known and uncommon side effect that can be avoided if these medications are used appropriately. The heart attack risk, which comes from another meta-analysis (notice a trend here), that just simply isn't true. I discuss all the recent studies and analysis in my recent post Avandia Vindicated!

Celebrex
Their claim: People taking 200 mg of Celebrex twice a day more than doubled their risk of dying of cardiovascular disease

The truth: This is one of two drugs out of the eight that doctors might not actually take. The real heart attack risk was seen in Vioxx, which was why it was pulled from the market. The question of cardiac risk with Celebrex, being a similar drug, has been studied, and no conclusive risk can be found. However, more importantly, it doesn't seem to be any more effective than ibuprofen and naproxen, and it's benefit of not causing the stomach ulcers which can be caused by ibuprofen and naproxen is not as substantial as initially thought. Because of a possible risk of heart problems, and no clear benefit over generic drugs, most doctors probably wouldn't recommend Celebrex as a first line agent. That said, certain patients who do well on it shouldn't all of a sudden stop this medication, because their is no clear heart risk.

Ketek
Their claim:"This antibiotic, which has traditionally been prescribed for respiratory-tract infections, carries a higher risk of severe liver side effects than similar antibiotics do."

The truth: This is the other drug that doctors probably wouldn't recommend. The reality is that ALL antibiotics are over-prescribed, and there are now very resistant bugs in the community that were once limited to the hospital. The good news is that azithromycin, amoxicillin, ciprofloxin, and others are all generic, work well, and are pretty safe. However, they should used sparingly. Ketek, if ever used, should reserved for only rare infections where any of the other older, generic antibiotics wouldn't be used.

Prilosec and Nexium
Their claim: " The FDA has investigated a suspected link between cardiac trouble and the acid-reflux remedies."

The truth: What????? Even they say the FDA found no evidence of a link. Sometimes heart burn symptoms can really be a heart attack, and taking these medications might delay the diagnosis of someone with an actual heart problem. However, this doesn't mean the medications aren't safe. Prilosec is even over the counter. Both are extremely effective in suppressing acid and making miserable patients happy. The link between acid suppression and pneumonia is unclear, and this is really only for people who are hospitalized or otherwise at risk, such as nursing home patients. They have been shown to be substantially better than H2 blockers such as Zantac. I don't think I know a physician that WOULDN'T recommend Prilosec or Nexxium to a patient with acid reflux.

Visine
Their claim:"Overuse of the active ingredient tetrahydrozoline can perpetuate the vessel dilating-and-constricting cycle and may cause even more redness."

The truth: OK, but so what. Almost every over the counter medication states how much and how often you should use a medication. There are many medications that if overused, or not used correctly, can cause problems. This doesn't mean that physicians wouldn't recommend Visine or similar OTC eye drops.

Pseudoephedrine
Their claim:"pseudoephedrine doesn't just constrict the blood vessels in your nose and sinuses; it can also raise blood pressure and heart rate, setting the stage for vascular catastrophe."

The truth: Pseudoephedrine was one of the most common medicines used in cold medications until some kids started making crystal meth with it. You can still get this, but it is placed behind the counter. Most cold medicine makers replaced Pseudoephedrine with phenylephrine, another decongestant, which doesn't work quite as well. Even Sudafed doesn't have pseudoephedrine in it anymore! These medications have been taken by millions of people for many years, and there have been no reported dangers. They can raise your blood pressure, which could be a concern if you already have high blood pressure. However, for most people they are quite safe and shouldn't be listed as a "dangerous" medication.
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