TUESDAY, May 10 (HealthDay News) -- People given a drug known as erythropoietin alfa after a heart attack may experience new heart problems and even greater cardiac damage from the attack, a new study finds.
The drug, which stimulates red blood cells, has been used in some heart attack patients because certain studies suggested it might reduce the extent of heart attack damage and improve heart function, the researchers explained.
The study was published in the May 11 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
"This study shows that erythropoietin should only be used with caution in patients with recent heart attacks," said Dr. Deepak L. Bhatt, chief of cardiology at the VA Boston Healthcare System, who was not involved in the study.
In fact, "there are hints in this study that the use of erythropoietin might have adverse cardiac effects," said Bhatt, who is also an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and the author of an accompanying editorial in the journal. This does not mean the drug doesn't have its place, for example, to help reduce transfusions in people with low blood counts, he added.
Known as erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESAs), erythropoietin drugs include Procrit and Epogen. They are typically used to treat anemia in cancer patients and to lower the risk of transfusions.
For the new study, dubbed the REVEAL trial, 222 heart attack patients in multiple centers across the United States were randomly assigned to receive erythropoietin alfa or a placebo after undergoing a balloon angioplasty or stent placement to open blocked heart vessels.
The patients had all suffered the most critical type of heart attack -- an ST segment elevation myocardial infarction, or STEMI. Because these patients are in danger of cardiac tissue death due to a local lack of oxygen (infarct) and other changes that incr
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