June 17 (UPI) — People taking the commonly prescribed antibiotic azithromycin were nearly twice as likely to die from a heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular event than users of the antibiotic amoxicillin, an analysis published Wednesday by JAMA Network Open found.
Although azithromycin has been linked with irregular heartbeat and other cardiac-related side effects, the findings do not necessarily suggest that it causes death in people with cardiovascular problems or who are at risk for heart health events, the authors said.
“There was a statistically significantly increased relative risk and absolute risk of cardiovascular death associated with azithromycin exposure compared with amoxicillin,” the authors wrote.
Azithromycin received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2002. Since then, it has been used to treat a variety of infections, including those that affect the lungs and sinuses.
More recently, the drug has been explored for use in the treatment of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.
Studies to date have evaluated it as part of a regimen that includes the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine, but many of these trials have been discontinued due to heart-related side effects. In addition, the combination’s effectiveness remains a subject for debate among researchers.
For the study, researchers reviewed data on more than 7.8 million people who were administered antibiotics over a 17-year period. More than 1.7 million of the prescriptions involved azithromycin, the researchers said.
Most of those who died from a cardiovascular event after taking the drug did so within five days of exposure. Azithromycin users were also more than twice as likely to die from other causes not related to heart disease, the researchers found.
“Varying disease severity within the specific indication for antibiotic use may be associated with both choice of antibiotic and risk of cardiovascular death,” the authors wrote.
In addition, other health conditions — referred to as comorbities — may contribute to “increased risk of cardiovascular or non-cardiovascular death,” they said.