Common anti-smoking drug may increase risk of stroke and heart attack

Varenicline, an anti-smoking drug has been shown to be associated with an increased risk of stroke and myocardial infarction. Smokers wishing to quit are encouraged to be more careful in their treatment choices.

Doctors are called to monitor patients on the medication to prevent potential life-threatening cardiac problems

Varenicline, an anti-smoking drug has been shown to be associated with an increased risk of stroke and myocardial infarction. Smokers wishing to quit are encouraged to be more careful in their treatment choices.

A new study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine has revealed that varenicline, a drug commonly prescribed to help people quit smoking, may increase the risk of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular events including myocardial infarction and stroke respectively.

Dr. Andrea S. Gershon, lead study author and associate professor of medicine at the University of Toronto in Canada, explained that the reasons behind the study were the lack of heterogeneous backgrounds and characteristics of participants in previous studies, as well as conflicting results on the safety of varenicline those studies had. Study authors noted they wanted the following study that involved all kinds of people around the world.

The study team analyzed data of 56,851 people in Ontario, Canada who had been using varenicline between 2001 and 2005. The researchers narrowed their analysis on health records of all the subjects a year before and a year after 12 weeks of use of varenicline.

The results of the analysis revealed that, within the studied periods, 4,135 of the subjects developed a heart condition that prompted visits to the emergency room (ER) or that required hospitalization.

The findings showed that varenicline was responsible for 3.95 cardiovascular events per 1,000 users. The study author deduced from these results that varenicline increased the risk of developing a severe cardiovascular event by 34 percent among people who had an underlying heart problem and a 12 percent risk for varenicline users with no prior heart disease.

Being an observational study, the team noted that the study cannot determine how varenicline causes myocardial infarction and stroke but emphasized that the findings are of value to guide doctors and patients in the prescription and use of varenicline respectively.

However, the authors noted that the study had some limitations, including lack of information about other drugs the subjects took to aid smoke quitting and if they quit smoking while they used varenicline.

Although previous studies have shown that varenicline is very effective in causing smoke cessation, the authors noted that this study should help guide healthcare providers in prescribing varenicline after weighing the benefits with potential risks associated with the drug.

Additionally, the study recommends that doctors should ensure they closely monitor patients taking varenicline to prevent the development of potentially life-threatening cardiac problems.

Gershon A.S, Cardiovascular and Neuropsychiatric Events Following Varenicline Use for Smoke Cessation, American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 2017. Retrieved from on January 24, 2018

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