Quitting smoking without any help may just be the hardest thing you can do, but new research indicates that this could be the safest option.

A study conducted by the University of East Anglia (UEA) and two US universities found that a drug that is designed to help people give up smoking increases the risk of serious heart problems.

The researchers investigated the cardiovascular effects of Varenicline - a smoking cessation drug with more than 70,000 prescriptions each month in the UK.

"We ananlysed 14 clinical trials involving more than 8200 otherwise healthy smokers and the likelihood of developing serious cardiovascular events resulting in hospitalisation, disability or death was almost 72 per cent higher in patients using Varenicline," says joint lead author Dr Yoon Loke of Norwich Medical School at UEA.

Varenicline is used by heavy smokers who find it difficult to quit the habit and is recommended by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE).

The drug - which is prescription only - reduces both the craving for and pleasurable effects of cigarettes. It is one of the most widely used drugs for cessation - despite the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) already warning that it can cause depression and suicidal thoughts.

While the number orf serious heart problems was low at around one per cent, Dr Loke cautioned that most of the studies were carried out on heathly people.

"Though the actual numbers of patients developing heart problems on Varenicline is relatively low, these are life-threatening diseases and so any increased risk should be carefully avoided - particulary as heavy smokers are already susceptible to cardivascular disease," he says.

"In smokers who have a history of heart disease, we estimate that one in 28 of them would be troubled by additional heart problems if they used this drug for a year."

Dr Yoon advises that anybody taking it should not stop suddenly, but talk to their doctor about any concerns. Plus, he enforces that the considerable health benefits of giving up smoking must be recognised and there are plenty of other drug and non-drug choices which can help people to quit.

Femalefirst Taryn Davies


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