New Heart Attack Medication May Be Risky
Posted on September 29, 2017
Taking anti-inflammatory drugs may cut the risk of heart attacks and strokes, according to a study by Brigham and Women’s Hospital at Harvard Medical School. Researchers presented the study at the European Society of Cardiology meeting in Barcelona, Spain, earlier this year.
Benefits of the Breakthrough
The study examined the impact of the anti-inflammatory arthritis drug canakinumab on 10,000 participants from four countries who had suffered at least one heart attack. Canakinumab is commonly used to treat systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, a painful form of arthritis caused by autoimmune disease.
Participants took the medication at least once every three months.
After four years of observation, the results of the study showed a 15 percent reduction in repeat heart attack, an exciting breakthrough for cardiologists. Doctors are encouraged by this result because the 15 percent reduction in risk is greater than the impact of statins and other cholesterol-reducing drugs on cardiac patients. The results also show that lowering levels of inflammation alone can reduce heart attack risk.
Inflammation has recently come into the spotlight as a contributor to heart attack and stroke. Some researchers claim that inflammation is responsible for up to 30 percent of all heart attacks in the United States.
Risks to Consider
While many cardiologists believe that canakinumab’s impact on the rate of heart attacks is an advancement in health care, there are some risks to using the medication.
Long-term use of the drug has led to cases of sepsis and an increase in potentially fatal infections in some individuals. Some in the medical community see using canakinumab as a double-edged sword.
“Reducing the occurrence of heart attack is critical, but the unintended side effects of the medication pose a risk,” said Dr. Joel Singer, M.D.
A Safe Alternative
Singer is a New York physician who sees the long-term effects of heart attack in his patients.
“Heart attacks happen when the blood supply to the heart becomes blocked. The blood supply can stop due to a clot or clogged artery,” Singer said.
When the blood supply is cut off, oxygen and other nutrients cannot reach the heart. As a result, heart muscle cells become damaged or die off.
Damaged heart muscle tissue repairs itself very slowly, and in some cases, it does not heal at all.
Damaged heart tissue leaves patients at risk for other cardiovascular complications like heart failure.
“When the heart muscle becomes damaged and weak, it causes the heart to have to work harder to pump blood and oxygen to the rest of the body. This increased workload on the heart causes increased strain on the heart, a condition known as heart failure,” Singer said.
Heart failure affects 5.7 million Americans, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Half of the people diagnosed with heart failure die within five years.
Singer uses autologous stem cell therapy to treat patients who have suffered the damaging effects of a heart attack and help to reduce the occurrence of heart failure.
“Stem cells can accelerate the healing process by triggering the body to flood the area with growth factors. Growth factors are chemical messages that the body sends to nearby dormant stem cells that tell these cells to wake up and start working,” Singer said.
Some of the messages sent by growth factors tell the body to send more oxygen, to increase blood flow to the damaged area and to reduce inflammation.
“Flooding the area with millions of stem cells gives a significant boost to healing damaged heart muscle,” Singer said.
Since the stem cells used in the therapy are taken directly from the patient, there is no risk of adverse reaction or rejection.
“Stem cell therapy provides an alternative treatment for patients who do not want the risks of conventional treatments,” Singer said.
The Economist. A wonder drug for heart disease that isn’t that wonderful. The Economist. 2 September 2017.