The risks of bronchodilator drugs

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Most people with asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) are low in magnesium. When they are treated with simple magnesium supplementation, their symptoms improve. Bronchodilator drugs are prescribed for conditions such as asthma and other bronchial diseases, but many of these drugs cause loss of magnesium, making symptoms worse.

Recently in the news there was a study that addresses this problem where people are treated with drugs that don’t necessarily address the main cause:

Common Bronchodilator Drug Linked To Increased Deaths

Sep. 15, 2008

A common bronchodilator drug which has been used for more than a decade by patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) has been linked to a one-third higher risk of cardiovascular-related deaths.

The drug, ipratropium, is sold under the brand names Atrovent and Combivent, the latter a combination product that contains ipratropium.

A new study from Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine found that veterans with recently diagnosed COPD using ipratropium were 34 percent more likely to die of a heart attack or of arrhythmia than COPD patients using only albuterol (another bronchodilator) or patients not using any treatment.

“This medication may be having some systemic cardiovascular effect that is increasing the risk of death in COPD patients,” said Todd Lee, lead author and research assistant professor in the Institute for HealthCare Studies at the Feinberg School.

COPD is an umbrella term for respiratory diseases that include chronic bronchitis and emphysema. The primary cause is smoking. An estimated 12 million people in the U.S. have COPD. The disease is the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. and is expected to grow to the third leading cause by 2020 due largely to an aging population with a higher historical rate of smoking.

Todd noted his study is observational and indicates the need for researchers to take a closer look at this medication, which has been considered safe for many years. The study looked at the cause of death of 145,000 veterans with newly diagnosed COPD from 1999 to 2003.

“The safety of drugs for COPD patients has flown under the radar,” Lee said. “We decided to look into the safety of respiratory medications for COPD patients because of some concerns that had been raised in asthma drugs. We were curious as to whether there were safety problems with these medications in patients with COPD.”

Todd said patients and providers should be aware of the potential risk. “When they make treatment decisions they need to weigh these potential risks against other medications that are available for COPD,” he noted.

The study is published in the Sept. 15 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Magnesium is an excellent treatment for asthma in bronchial conditions because it is a bronchodilator and an antihistamine, and asthmatic patients typically have high histamine levels. Research has shown that a lack of magnesium can probably cause bronchial spasm, and that 65% of asthmatics in an intensive care population had a magnesium deficiency.

As many as 47% of people with COPD have been reported by researchers to be deficient in magnesium, and the time spent in the hospital was also linked to low levels of magnesium.

Magnesium, as a calcium antagonist, relaxes airways and smooth muscles and dilates the lungs. It also reduces airway inflammation, inhibits chemicals that cause spasm, and increases anti-inflammatory substances such as nitric oxide. What is more, magnesium is essential for heart health and in the prevention of heart arrhythmias, exactly the issues addressed in the news article. It is one of those essential supplements. It’s also very important to remember that the usual blood serum tests for magnesium are totally ineffective in determining a deficiency, since magnesium works in cells. Take magnesium citrate 300 mg twice a day.

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