Azithromycin.. maybe not a great antibiotic for heart patients

The story is being picked up by a lot of local news: a popular antibiotic has been shown to increase the risk of cancer in those who take it. Whoa. That’s scary.

But while they’re all saying that the risk is relatively low, the most informative article on the subject is a WebMD article. And if that doesn’t make local media hang their heads in shame, I’m not sure what will.

The study estimates that out of a million doses of the drug, 47 may have resulted in a heart attack. 13WHAM notes that there were approximately 55 million prescriptions filled out for this drug a year.

However, in those with prior heart conditions, the number jumps significantly to 245 cases per million. That’s a much different story.

It’s also worth noting that, while this one drug is being singled out in current reporting, Health.com notes that there are in fact a suite of antibiotics that increase the risk of heart attacks. And of course there is this big take-away:

While the study found an association between the use of azithromycin and potential heart problems, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

So a relatively low chance of heart attack in most people, a higher – but still not proven – chance of heart attack in those with pre-existing heart problems. On balance, this doesn’t strike me as anything to get too excited about. Rather, it’s one more thing to talk to one’s doctor about if you’ve already got concerns about your ticker.