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Chantix may raise heart-attack risk more than suspected

Chantix, a pill that can assist people who wish to stop smoking, appears to raise the risk of a heart attack or cardiac problem substantially, according to a new study.

The specific cardiac risks linked to the drug, which is also known as varenicline, are only now coming into focus. Last month, the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning that Chantix may slightly increase the risk of a heart attack or other heart problems among people who already have heart disease. The FDA based its findings on data that showed seven out of 353 people taking Chantix had a nonfatal heart attack compared with three out of 350 people who took a placebo.

But the new paper, published Tuesday in the Canadian Medical Assn. Journal, analyzes 14 previous randomized, double-blind trials on the drug. Based on this data, of more than 8,000 healthy people, those who took Chantix had a 72% increased risk of having a heart attack or arrhythmia. Serious cardiovascular events occurred among 61 of 4,908 people who took Chantix compared with 29 out of 3,308 taking a placebo.

The new data may give smokers who wish to quit, and their doctors, pause. Chantix clearly helps some smokers quit. According to the FDA, about 19% of people who take the drug are able to abstain from smoking for at least one year compared with 7% of people taking a placebo. But the medication already carries a warning because it can cause suicidal thoughts and behaviors in some people.

“I think our new research shifts the risk-benefit profile of varenicline,” the lead author of the study, Sonal Singh, of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said in a news release. “People should be concerned. They don’t need Chantix to quit and this is another reason to consider avoiding Chantix altogether.”

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People who take Chantix should check with their doctor if they experience any new symptoms, such as shortness of breath or chest pain, said FDA officials.

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