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Robert Binstock
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Nothing new about controversy over medications

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The current controversy swirling around the diabetes drug Avandia is reminiscent of a similar controversy that arose more than 30 years ago. Then, as now, a study showed that a popular diabetes drug might be causing heart problems instead of preventing them.

Back then, many doctors found it hard to believe that a prescribed drug used to lower blood sugar could cause cardiac problems. Scientists from the Cleveland Clinic analyzed data from more than 15,000 patients and 12,000 controls. They discovered an increased risk of heart attacks and deaths from cardiovascular causes among patients taking Avandia (New England Journal of Medicine, May 21, 2007, online).

The manufacturer of Avandia, GlaxoSmithKline, has defended its diabetes medicine. The company called the results “reassuring” because cardiovascular risks with Avandia were comparable to those with other diabetes drugs.

One disturbing side effect has not received as much attention as it deserves. Avandia doubles the risk of congestive heart failure. As the heart weakens, they suffer shortness of breath, fluid accumulation and circulatory problems. Patients suffering from heart failure have a harder time pumping blood throughout the body. Heart failure can be fatal.

People with diabetes shouldn’t have to worry that the medicine they take to lower their blood sugar is increasing their risk for heart trouble. It is a scary thought to think about. Lessons that should have been learned more than 30 years ago show that just because a medicine lowers blood sugar does not mean it prevents all the serious consequences of diabetes.

For more information on this topic, please refer to our section on Drugs, Medical Devices, and Implants.