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Does a Popular Antibiotic Raise the Risk of Heart Attack?

It is a basic scientific principle that like should be compared with like.

Theodore Dalrymple


August 26, 2014 - 7:00 am
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I happened to notice recently a report in a French newspaper of a study just published in the British Medical Journal, a study that had purportedly shown an increased incidence of cardiac death in people who took an antibiotic called clarithromycin. As I had myself taken this drug a couple of times in my life (though not, of course, quite as prescribed, because no one ever takes drugs quite as prescribed), I felt a certain personal interest in the question.

I needn’t have worried because the paper, from Denmark, claimed that the increased risk of cardiac death occurred only while the patient was taking the drug, not afterwards. But the closer I looked at the paper, the more darkness it seemed to shed on what doctors ought to do.

Denmark is a small country with a population of about 5.5 million, but it has the best health records in the world. This means that statisticians are able to churn out comparisons as Danish dairy farmers churn out butter.

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All Comments   (5)
All Comments   (5)
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If you took to heart, no pun intended, the daily vomit of medical hysteria delivered to the public's ears and eyes, we'd be practicing medicine as it was in 5000 BC. One day coffee is good for you, the next day it's bad. On and on. Too much money spent on bogus studies and too much hyperbole for news outlets to broadcast to paying customers.
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'll tell you what the principle lesson to be learned is here, and I don't even have an MD.

The principle lesson to be learned here, class, is that ALL drugs have side effects. The question is whether or not it is worth the risk to use them. Sometimes you need antibiotics very badly and it is well worth the slight risk and sometimes the doc is just wielding his prescription pad because you've got the flu and you demand a pill even though antibiotics don't work on viruses.
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
Seems they did not evaluate why patients needed the antibiotic treatment in the first place. A (very slightly) elevated risk of a heart attack is, to me, a good trade for the possibility of losing a limb to gangrene, or permanent respiratory damage from acute pneumonia.

Studies like these (when they do actually identify a statistically significant result - either positive or negative) are useful to physicians in weighing the relative risks.
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
Seems they did not evaluate why patients needed the antibiotic treatment in the first place.

I had a similar thought, but "...the medical indications for using..." seems to cover that. Docspeak.
12 weeks ago
12 weeks ago Link To Comment
"The principle lesson to be learned is that you should not believe what you read about medicine in the newspapers. On the other hand, everything else in the newspapers is perfectly reliable, the unadorned truth…"

"Yes", he replied, nodding in solemn agreement, "It certainly is."

"Now", he continued, "Back to that bridge purchase we were discussing..."

13 weeks ago
13 weeks ago Link To Comment
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