Common antibiotic linked to increased risk of heart disease

More research urgently needed, scientists say

Health Correspondent

One of the most commonly prescribed antibiotics has been linked with an increased risk of death from heart disease, researchers have said.

Clarithromycin, which is used in the treatment of many bacterial infections, is given to millions of people every year. Its use is already discouraged in patients with certain heart conditions, but in a new analysis of patient data carried out by Danish researchers, the drug was found to cause 37 potentially avoidable deaths compared to similar antibiotics for every one million courses of the antibiotic prescribed.

Although this level of risk is small, they said that the fact that clarithromycin is prescribed to so many people meant that “urgent confirmation” of their findings was required. However, they did not recommend any immediate changes to prescribing practice.

Clarithromycin belongs to a group of antibiotics known as macrolides. These antibiotics are known to affect the rhythm of the heart muscle’s electrical activity – known as the QT interval – and are therefore thought to increase the risk of potentially fatal heart rhythm problems.

Doctors already know to exercise caution when prescribing the drugs to patients with a rare condition called Long QT syndrome, which causes episodes of rapid heart rhythm, or arrhythmia.

However, the new findings, if confirmed in separate studies, could lead doctors to take further precautions. Last year, clarithromycin was prescribed 2.2m times in England, according to the Health and Social Care Information Centre.

The Danish researchers, from the Statens Serum Institut in Copenhagen, analysed more than five million patients treated with three different antibiotics to determine the differing risks of each. Individuals with serious disease were excluded from the analysis.

They said that because the absolute risk was so small, it was unlikely that prescribing practice would have to change. However, they said “clarithromycin is one of the more commonly used antibiotics in many countries and many millions of people are prescribed this drug each year; thus, the total number of excess cardiac deaths may not be negligible”.

After adjusting for factors such as age, sex, cardiac risk and use of other medication, ongoing use of clarithromycin was associated with a 76 per cent higher risk of death from heart disease compared with use of penicillin V – a similar antibiotic. The study was published in the British Medical Journal  today.

Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “All medications can come with side effects, which is why your doctor will always weigh up the risks before prescribing drugs to patients.

“Health professionals already know to exercise caution when prescribing clarithromycin in patients who have, or may be predisposed to Long QT syndrome - a condition that can cause sudden cardiac death. This study shows that they should continue to follow that advice.

“More research is now needed to understand the effect of this antibiotic on the wider population. The bottom line is no one should be taking antibiotics unless they absolutely have to and doctors should give careful consideration before prescribing them. If you are taking clarithromycin at the moment, you should not stop without discussing this further with your GP.”

The authors of the study said that “confirmation in independent populations is an urgent priority given the widespread use of macrolide antibiotics”.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

    £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

    Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

    £23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

    Day In a Page

    Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

    The secret CIA Starbucks

    The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
    Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

    How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

    The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
    One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

    One million Britons using food banks

    Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

    The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
    Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
    Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

    Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

    They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
    Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
    The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

    The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

    Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
    How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

    How to run a restaurant

    As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
    Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

    Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

    For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
    Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

    Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

    The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
    10 best tote bags

    Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

    We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
    Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

    Paul Scholes column

    I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...