Antibiotics Tied to Heart Valve Problems

A group of commonly used antibiotics may increase the risk for heart valve problems, researchers report.

A study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology looked at antibiotic use among 12,502 people with heart valve regurgitation, leaking heart valves that, untreated, can lead to heart failure. The researchers compared them with 125,020 healthy controls.

They compared the class of antibiotics called fluoroquinolones (Cipro, Levaquin and others) with two other commonly prescribed antibiotics, amoxicillin and azithromycin. Current fluoroquinolone users had a 240 percent higher relative risk for valve regurgitation than amoxicillin users, and a 75 percent higher risk than people who took azithromycin.

The risk declined with time. People who had stopped using fluoroquinolones within the past two months had a 47 percent higher risk than amoxicillin users, and a 37 percent higher risk than those who took azithromycin. After two months of stopping the drugs, there was no increased risk.

Fluoroquinolones are known to have various side effects, including tendon rupture, tears in the heart (aortic rupture) and nerve damage.

“This adds to the long list of rare but serious events that happen with fluoroquinolones,” said the lead author, Dr. Mahyar Etminan, an associate professor of ophthalmology at the University of British Columbia. “These drugs should be reserved for situations where nothing else can be used and the benefits outweigh the risks.”

The study was funded by the Provincial Health Services Authority of British Columbia.

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