Smoking Cessation Aid Varenicline (Champix) Associated with Increased Risk for Cardiovascular Events

July 1, 2011

Smoking Cessation Aid Varenicline Associated with Increased Risk for Cardiovascular Events
On June 16th, 2011 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that the smoking cessation aid varenicline (Chantix in USA and Champix in Canada) may be associated with increased risk for adverse cardiovascular events, such as heart attack, in patients with pre-existing cardiovascular disease. In a clinical trial with 700 male and female smokers with cardiovascular disease, researchers found that those taking Champix had about double the risk of a cardiovascular event than those taking a placebo drug. However, the risk associated with Champix was still very low (1.4 – 2.3% increased risk for cardiovascular event). Therefore, the FDA announced these findings not to scare away patients but to inform them of the risks, which will now be added to the “Warnings and Precautions” section on the drug label.

Champix is the brand name for varenicline — a drug that helps people quit smoking by blocking the effects of nicotine from the brain. This drug was approved by the FDA in 2006 and has been widely used to aid patients in their struggle to quit smoking. Varenicline is typically taken for 12 weeks and can more than double likelihood of quitting smoking and abstaining from smoking long-term.

Based on the recent FDA announcement regarding varenicline, it is important that patients considering using or currently taking this drug consider the pros and cons of its use. Smoking is the number one most preventable cause of death in the United States and the most preventable risk factor for heart disease. Smoking increases risk for heart attack up to six times and greatly increases risk of death. Once smokers quit, however, they experience health benefits within just a few hours and greatly reduce risk for heart disease and other conditions over time. Therefore, the increased cardiovascular risk associated with varenicline (up to 2.3%) in patients with heart disease will often outweigh the many significant risks associated with continuing smoking. However, be sure to discuss all concerns with your doctor before using a smoking cessation aid to determine which is best for you.

Questions for You to Consider
Q: What should I do if I have heart disease and am currently taking varenicline (Chantix)?

A: If you are currently taking Chantix and have heart disease, contact your healthcare provider if you experience any new or worsening symptoms of heart disease, such as chest pain or shortness of breath. You should also discuss any concerns you may have regarding Chantix with your doctor.

Q: Are there alternative smoking cessation aids other than varenicline (Chantix)?

A: There are many smoking cessation aids other than Chantix that can help smokers fight nicotine withdrawal and tobacco cravings. Bupropion (Zyban) is another type of prescription drug, normally used to treat depression that helps people stop smoking. There are also various types of nicotine replacement therapy, including patches, inhalers, lozenges, gums and nasal sprays that can help wean smokers off of cigarettes.

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