When the Treatment Might Be Worse Than the Disease
By Walt Raleigh
A physician friend of mine once observed wryly, “I like to prescribe the new drugs just as quickly as I can, while they’re still working miracles and they don’t have any side effects.”
But there’s a lot of truth in that. New drugs come on the market, and they’re all the greatest thing since sliced bread... until the kind of data that you can only get when large populations of patients have been taking them for a while becomes available.
I’m not a doctor, and I don’t play one on dLife. I’m just trying to be an educated consumer and sort out the information that is available to me and make some sense of it all; I want to understand both the risks and the benefits of any medication that I take regularly.
Here’s the latest poser:
If you’ve been following the news lately, you know that researchers at the prestigious Cleveland Clinic have reported in the New England Journal of Medicine that GlaxoSmithKline’s new diabetes drug, Avandia, may increase the risk of heart attack for diabetes patients by up to 43%.
Right now, some of you are thinking: Oh my God! The risk of heart disease in diabetes patients is high enough already... so we should all stop taking Avandia immediately, right?
The story got a lot of play in the national news media, and that kind of panicked reaction was the entirely understandable result.
But it’s just not that simple.
Here’s the word straight from the lead researcher who published the study:
Researcher Steven Nissen, M.D., is chairman of Cleveland Clinic's cardiovascular medicine department. Nissen, past president of the American College of Cardiology, was one of the first doctors to raise the alarm about the heart risks posed by Vioxx. Nissen says his findings are valid, but he warns that the data are not definitive and must be confirmed by further studies.
"What patients need to know is there is some evidence of cardiovascular harm from Avandia — but there is not any reason to panic," Nissen tells WebMD.
So what should you do, if you’re taking Avandia now?
dLife's Daily Living columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team to find out what will work best for you.
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