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Stroke fears over arthritis pills.

Hundreds of thousands of patients taking commonly prescribed painkillers have been told to see their doctor to discuss their treatment.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) issued new advice on the antiinflammatory drugs known as Cox-2 inhibitors, frequently used to treat arthritis sufferers. It follows growing concern they may increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Just last week, Pfizer announced that a US study had found that its drug Celebrex, taken by an estimated 600,000 patients in the UK, increased the risk of heart problems and stroke.

This also followed the worldwide withdrawal in September of Vioxx, another Cox-2 inhibitor, by makers Merck Sharp & Dohme, after a long-term study showed an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes after 18 months or more of use.

The MHRA says that patients taking Celebrex, Bextra and Arcoxia should make a non-urgent appointment with their GP to review their treatment.The watchdog said that patients who had established heart disease or who were at high risk of a stroke would have their treatment changed.

Celebrex and other Cox-2 inhibitors are used to treat pain and inflammation in osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, and also in the management of acute pain. Many patients were switched to Celebrex after the withdrawal of Vioxx earlier this year. On Friday, Pfizer said that one cancer prevention trial of Celebrex, conducted by the US Cancer Institute, showed that it more than doubled the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

However, another trial did not reveal any increased risk of heart problems.

Professor Gordon Duff, chairman of the Committee on the Safety of Medicines, said: 'The Committee on the Safety of Medicines is waiting for the study data. Once this is available, the committee will carefully consider this and issue further advice.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Dec 22, 2004
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