Chantix, also known as varenicline, is a commonly prescribed drug for patients looking to quit smoking. Although the medication has been licensed as safe to use, new research has suggested that it may increase the risk of cardiovascular problems, including heart attack, stroke, irregular heartbeat and angina.

Dr. Andrea S. Gershon, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Toronto in Canada who led the study, said “Previous studies regarding the safety of varenicline have been conflicting and most examined people with relatively similar characteristics and backgrounds in highly controlled settings.” He added that “We wanted to study varenicline among all kinds of people in the real world.”

For the purposes of the study, a team of researchers analysed the health records of over 50,000 individuals in Ontario, Canada, who use the drug to help them quit smoking between 2011 and 2015. The drug is usually taken over a 12 week period which was taken into account, along with data for a year prior to starting treatment and a year after it was completed.

The results of the study were that, during the periods laid out, there were 4185 cases of patients experienced cardiovascular problems that required hospitilisation or ER visits. The results equated to there being 3.95 cases of heart problems per 1000 users of the medication that that study said “could be attributed to the drug”.

Researchers claim that this would mean there is a 34% increased risk of those taking varencline, however among those who hadn’t previously suffered any cardiovascular problems the risk was 12% higher whilst taking the drug. It’s also been noted that this study is purely observational, and although it showed a strong correlation, there is no definitive evidence that varencline is the cause of the heart problems in the patients involved in the study.  

The researchers added that some of the information used in the study was limited, and didn’t include some medical information like whether the patients actually quit smoking and whether they’d used other nicotine replacement during the course of medication. So, although there appeared to be a link, there could be other contributing factors to take into account.

“Our findings should not be used to suggest people not take varenicline,” explains Dr. Gershon. “The findings should be used to help people make an informed decision about whether they should take varenicline based on accurate information about its risks as well as its benefits.” She added that it’s always recommended that doctors should monitor all patients taking varenicline, and that any concerns should be addressed promptly in order to prevent them from escalating.

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