Can Smoking Cessation Still Result in Health Hazards?
More than 36 million people in the United States currently are smokers, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Of these, most wish they could quit. Smoking causes damage to the heart, lungs, skin and immune system, in addition to increasing risk for cancer. Abruptly quitting, also called quitting cold turkey, almost never works for smokers in the long term, which is why new prescription and over the counter smoking cessation aides continue to gain popularity. But, are there still hazards when taking a smoking cessation drug? Absolutely.
What Is Varenicline?
One of the most popular smoking cessation drugs, Varenicline, is commonly known as Chantix in the United States and Champix elsewhere. This medication is prescribed for individuals who hope to quit smoking, and the maintenance dose is no more than 2mg per day unless otherwise advised by a doctor.
Unlike nicotine patches and gum, Varenicline does not contain nicotine. It is typically a short-term medication taken for 3-6 months. Individuals taking Chantix or any other smoking cessation drug are usually encouraged to pair it with smoking cessation counseling. While many people have been able to successfully quit smoking while using Varenicline, others experience harsh side effects.
Common Side Effects of Varenicline
Every drug on the market has potential side effects about which patients should be aware. For Varenicline, the side effects vary from mild to severe. The most common side effects are relatively mild and include:
- Upset stomach
- Lethargy or feeling tired
- Dry mouth
- Poor sleep
- Unusual dreams
More severe side effects requiring immediate medical intervention include:
- Allergic reactions, such as rash, hives, blistering, wheezing, fever and facial or esophageal swelling
- Extreme abdominal pain and vomiting
- Shortness of breath
- Heart attack and stroke
As with any medication, patients should discuss their personal risk of side effects prior to starting a prescription drug.
Research Shows Increased Risk of Cardiovascular Events
In addition to the side effects mentioned above, Varenicline has been shown to increase the risk of cardiovascular events. A recent study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine found that the number of cardiovascular events in the 12 weeks following Varenicline receipt increased by 34 percent. The study, which reviewed the ER admissions of more than 56,000 participants, pointed out that while Chantix is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular events, risks of neuropsychiatric side effects requiring hospitalization were not elevated.
Are There Any Positive Results?
Despite recent research and the drug’s known side effects, Varenicline has helped many individuals quit smoking. In fact, it has been shown to make people three times as likely to quit smoking, which as a result, leads to less cardiovascular events for those people. It works by attaching to nicotine receptors in the brain where nicotine itself would otherwise attach. When individuals smoke a cigarette while taking Chantix, the feel-good chemical dopamine doesn’t have the same powerful effect. Depending on the source, the chance of an individual remaining smoke-free at six months using Chantix is anywhere from 14-44 percent. Still, this chance may be better than the success rate associated with quitting cold turkey or gradual smoking cessation, which ranges from 12-27 percent.
Patients Must Weigh Risks Thoroughly
Before starting any regimen, whether it’s a diet or new drug, it’s important for patients to weigh the risks in partnership with their treating physician. After all, a patient may quit smoking and reduce their risk of lung cancer, but ultimately suffer medical conditions like a heart attack or stroke, that cause lifelong disabilities and require ongoing medical care.
If you would like to speak to one of our experienced cardiologists about which smoking cessation path is right for you, please don’t hesitate to call us at 770-962-0399, or visit our website at: www.cvgcares.com.