Page last updated at 00:52 GMT, Wednesday, 2 April 2008 01:52 UK

Anti-HIV drug 'heart attack risk'

Cell infected with HIV
Abacavir is a commonly used HIV drug

A popular anti-HIV drug nearly doubles the risk of heart attack, a study says.

Abacavir works by reducing the amount of the virus in the body and is often used in combination with other drugs.

But Danish researchers said patients may wish to consider changing treatment programmes after studying over 33,000 people, the Lancet reported.

Experts said the research revealed a new risk, but said benefits of the drug may still outweigh risks. The makers said they took the findings seriously.

The Copenhagen University-led team looked at a range of anti-HIV drugs.

Some people taking abacavir may choose to change their treatment, but others may decide with their doctor that it's still the best option for them
Roger Pebody, of the Terrence Higgins Trust

All were found to have no effect on heart attack risk with the exception of abacavir and didanosine, which is not commonly used in the UK and had a much smaller risk than abacavir.

The risk was not cumulative and, therefore, individuals who had stopped using the drugs were found to have no increased risk within six months.

The researchers were unsure why the effect was seen.

But they said their findings posed a dilemma for patients and doctors.

Lead researcher Jens Lundgren said: "If the decision is made to consider discontinuation of either drug, then a full assessment of the possible risks and benefits of their continued use should be undertaken.

"Such an assessment must be individualised for each patient.

"It should take into account their underlying risk of heart attacks, the availability of other treatment options after taking into account their history of past treatment and HIV resistance testing, and the safety profile of alternative HIV medication."

Risk

Dr Didier Lapierre, of GlaxoSmithKline, the manufacturers of abacavir, said the company's own analysis of 54 studies did not suggest a heart risk.

But he added: "GSK takes the finding seriously and is committed to understanding these data more fully and to communicating openly with treating physicians and regulatory agencies globally."

Roger Pebody, treatment advisor at the Terrence Higgins Trust, said: "Heart disease is an issue for many people with HIV, and this important research highlights a risk that hasn't been identified before.

"When deciding the best treatment for each individual this research should be taken into account along with other risk factors like family history, smoking and lack of exercise.

"Some people taking abacavir may choose to change their treatment, but others may decide with their doctor that it's still the best option for them."


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