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FDA: Smoking drug Chantix may slightly raise risk of heart problems

Smoking cigarettes increases the risk of heart disease, so kicking the habit is presumably heart-healthy. But take note if you are trying to quit using the drug Chantix: The FDA announced Thursday that, for people who already have heart disease, the drug might be associated with a small risk of heart attack or other heart condition.

The new warning comes from a 700-person trial in which patients who took Chantix (varenicline) over 12 weeks were more likely to experience an adverse heart event after one year than those who received a placebo. All of the patients had already been diagnosed with heart disease. For both groups, the heart attack risk was still small: 7 out of 353 patients taking Chantix had a nonfatal heart attack, versus 3 out of 350 who took a placebo.

The FDA advises that patients on the drug should check with their doctor if they have new or worsening symptoms of heart disease, such as difficulty breathing, chest pain or pain while walking.

Heart problems aren’t the only warning associated with Chantix. In 2009 the FDA warned that the drug might increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

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As with any drug, this one has its risks and benefits. Chantix does help some people quit smoking—in the same trial that looked at heart risks, 19% of those who took Chantix were still abstaining from cigarettes after a year, compared to 7% of the placebo.

But to quit smoking, there are plenty of options. And if at first you don’t succeed, well, you know.

healthkey@tribune.com

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