Researchers spent a decade studying an arthritis drug to see if it causes heart problems.
Now the results are in.
Mary Kay Bossard, a sixty-four-year-old respiratory therapist, takes Celebrex to relieve the debilitating pain of arthritis.
“It’s my hands, they’re my shoulders,” he said. “I had back surgery because I had arthritis so severe.”
Celebrex works similarly to the drug Vioxx. It targets an enzyme responsible for pain and inflammation. Vioxx was withdrawn from the market in 2004 because of the increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
“I was worried,” Bossard said. “There’s that little niggling in the back of your mind going, ‘Oh it’s okay to take this every day’?”
In 2005, the FDA required the manufacturer of Celebrex to conduct a safety trial.
The researchers followed 24,000 people at increased cardiovascular risk who had arthritis severe enough to require daily medication. One of the three anti-inflammatory drugs, Celebrex, Ibuprofen or Naproxen, was randomly assigned and monitored for cardiovascular events such as heart attack, stroke or death.
Dr. Steven Nissen of the Cleveland Clinic led the 10-year study.
“I thought I’d probably lean against Celebrex,” Nissen said. “Everyone was wrong – including me. It’s pretty clear from the data that it was not worse, if anything, I was tending to be on the better side.”
The study also found a lower risk of gastrointestinal complications in Celebrex compared to the other two.
“He really takes a drug that was under a cloud of suspicion after Vioxx was removed, and it raises that cloud and now allows us to think about this in different ways,” said Nissen.
This study did not consider the occasional use of these drugs for, say, a headache.
But now, for some patients with more severe and chronic pain, some doctors who have withdrawn from using Celebrex may now decide to use it.