Tuesday, July 20, 1999 Published at 10:40 GMT 11:40 UK
Heart failure drug breakthrough
Almost 50% of heart failure victims die within five years
Adding a new drug into the cocktail used to treat heart failure cuts deaths by a third, according to research published on Monday.
The drug spironolactone, sold as Aldactone, is not currently approved for treating congestive heart failure which kills thousands in the UK every year.
But the significant study results have led to calls for it to be made standard treatment for the condition which stops the heart from pumping blood effectively.
Half of all patients die within five years of developing the condition, and overall 12% of those with heart failure will die in any one year.
The findings have such far-ranging implications for the treatment of the condition that the New England Journal of Medicine, which was planning to publish them in its September issue, has released the article early on its website.
Clinical tests on more than 1,600 patients proved so effective that they were stopped 18 months early.
Researchers said it would be unethical to carry on giving half the patients placebos and standard drug treatments.
Results showed that death rates were cut by 30% over two years and hospital admissions were down by 35%.
Aldactone, which costs just a few pence a day, was originally developed as a drug for treating water retention.
Standard treatment for heart failure is the use of other types of diuretic drug, and ACE inhibitors, which control high blood pressure.
Some doctors add beta-blockers, another class of drugs which can reduce high blood pressures, to the mixture.
Dr Pitt is recommending adding Aldactone as a fourth drug to the cocktail.
In the trials, some 386, or 46% of the patients who did not receive Aldactone died within five years.
This compared with 284, or 35% of the patients who died after being given the Aldactone cocktail.
"The decrease in cardiac death and hospitalisation was dramatic," said Dr Bertram Pitt, of the University of Michigan School of Medicine, who led the research.
The British Heart Foundation said today in a statement that the study was "potentially very exciting".
"Although the British Heart Foundation has not yet had the opportunity to study the trial results in detail, it would appear that this could be a very important way for doctors to help their heart failure patients.
"Clearly, it is important that the research results are subject to proper scrutiny before patients should expect to have access to this drug. But if the effects of this treatment are as great as suggested by this study, the potential benefit in terms of lives saved could be huge."