Common antibiotic linked to cardiac death

Drug increases the risk of potentially fatal heart rhythm problems

By Moushumi Sharma
Published: Friday 22 August 2014

Clarithromycin belongs to the class of drugs called macrolide antibiotics, which prolong the duration of electrical activity of the heart muscleClarithromycin, a common antibiotic used to treat bacterial infections, can increase the risk of cardiac death, finds a new study. Although the absolute risks are low, according to the researchers, further studies are required to understand the possible link and they feel that a change in prescription is not necessary until the results have been confirmed by an independent study.
Clarithromycin belongs to the class of drugs called “macrolide antibiotics”, which prolong the duration of electrical activity of the heart muscle and are therefore thought to increase the risk of potentially fatal heart rhythm problems, says a report of Medical Xpress, a web-based medical and health news service.

For the study, a team of Danish researchers compared the effects of different kinds of antibiotics on heart tissue. They used clarithromycin, another macrolide called roxithromycin and penicillin V, an antibiotic with no known risk of heart disease. They analysed data available on 160,297 courses of clarithromycin, 588,988 of roxithromycin and 4,355,309 of penicillin V, Medical Xpress quotes The Telegraph. These medications were prescribed to Danish adults aged 40-74 between 1997 and 2011.

The researchers recorded 285 cardiac deaths, 18 of which occurred during the use of clarithromycin and 32 during the use of roxithromycin. However, after considering factors such as age, sex, baseline cardiac risk and use of other medication, the ongoing use of clarithromycin was associated with a 76 per cent higher risk of cardiac death compared with the use of penicillin V, says a press release of the British Medical Journal, which published the study. The absolute risk difference was 37 cardiac deaths per one million courses of clarithromycin when compared to penicillin V.

“Our study expands on the available knowledge of the cardiac safety of macrolides, being the first large-scale population-based observational study to show significantly increased cardiac risk with clarithromycin and the relative cardiac safety of roxithromycin,” the authors said in the press release. They, however, warn that clarithromycin is one of the commonly used antibiotics in many countries and millions of people are prescribed this drug every year, hence the total number of excess (potentially avoidable) cardiac deaths may not be negligible.

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