TUESDAY, May 22 (HealthDay News) -- New research suggests that young asthma patients who use drugs known as inhaled anticholinergics -- such as ipratropium [Atrovent] -- could be more likely than others to suffer from potentially dangerous irregular heartbeat.
However, the increased risk was not seen for some types of anticholinergics.
"Obviously, this finding raises concern because of the recent interest in use of anticholinergics in asthma," study author Todd Lee of the University of Illinois at Chicago, said in a news release from the American Thoracic Society.
Still, "while we did find an increase in the risk of events associated with the use of anticholinergics, the overall number of events we found was relatively small," Lee said. "Therefore, the absolute risk of an event for an individual patient is relatively low."
Asthma patients use anticholinergic drugs when they have flare-ups to get quick relief. The medications have shown promise for use in the long term to prevent exacerbations, the release noted.
But based on research with patients who have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, scientists wonder if the drugs could boost the risk of heart problems. In the new study, researchers studied data on more than 280,000 asthma patients aged 5 to 24. They found 7,656 new users of asthma drugs who had at least 6 months' usage and compared them to about 76,000 other patients.
The researchers found that those who used the drugs faced a risk of irregular heartbeat. The abstract of the study doesn't say how many developed the problem, but reports that the anticholinergic users had 1.56 times the risk of non-users.
The type of anticholingeric drug used made a difference. No signficant risk was seen for tiotropium (Spiriva) or with ipratropium when it was combined with other asthma drugs called short-acting beta agonists, like albuterol.
The increased risk was only seen with higher antich
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