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Drugs for COPD Raise Risk of Heart Attacks

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD is common in older people. It is a leading cause of death in senior citizens. The primary drugs for COPD treatment are long acting bronchodilators called LABAs. These include such drugs as salmeterol and formoterol. Another widely used medication for COPD is a long-acting anti-cholinergic medication called tiotropium. It is found in the inhaler Spiriva.

Are There Serious Side Effects of Drugs for COPD?

A new epidemiological study from Canada suggests that when older patients start taking such medications, they increase their risk of trips to an emergency department or hospitalization due to cardiovascular causes. This study reignites a controversy about the cardiovascular safety of these drugs for COPD patients. Until it is resolved, physicians and patients will need to be vigilant for any symptoms that might suggest heart or other vascular complications.

Gershon et al, JAMA Internal Medicine, July 8, 2013

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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Diagnosed with COPD some 10 yrs. ago, I sporadically used Albuterol inhaler when shortness of breath increased, not noticing any significant improvement. So dr. recently prescribed Spiriva for maintenance once daily & seemed to maintain ok, but severe chest pain (heartburn?) which lasted MANY hours began to occur along with an increase in cystitis bouts so I told dr. & he said to return to the Albuterol. Well, that was 10 days ago and breathing has been normal (except for vacuuming, etc, which has been an effort since Day One.) and I’ve taken NO meds. So I’m wondering if all I ever needed was some type of “rescue” inhaler for emergency relief…..

Could these trips to the hospital be due to the fact that their breathing is becoming worse by the time they take these medicines-which puts a strain on the heart anyway? I have a father and a mother in law that are in very late stages of COPD. It is hard to see them suffer like this, and I think the medicines they take are necessary. I understand they are not saying to stop the medicines, but be vigilant watching for heart complications.

Does Xopenex inhaler relate to this information? Husband is a heart patient with COPD – had a very bad experience with Albuterol a few years ago – rushed to Emergency – very close to expiring. Has been using Xopenex inhaler for about a year now (did use OTC that has been taken off the market). He uses this inhaler as prescribed, and NEEDS something to help him breathe after walking (on a walker and has limited mobility). Also, he has a pacemaker. All physicians he sees seem to be just monitoring him and not making any changes in anything – he is 88 years old.

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