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Old Gout Drug May Help Heart Disease Patients

Allopurinol reduces heart-muscle hypertrophy (Mar. 5)

Researchers at the University of Dundee in Scotland have shown that an old, inexpensive anti-gout drug may have benefits for patients with heart disease.

The investigators found that allopurinol — a drug that has been used to prevent gout for more than 40 years — reduces left ventricular hypertrophy (LVH). This thickening of the heart-muscle wall is known to be a modifiable risk factor for cardiovascular events; therefore, patients with heart disease may be able to prevent such adverse outcomes by taking allopurinol, according to the researchers.

The new findings were published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

In previous studies, patients with angina who were treated with allopurinol were able to exercise longer and harder before they experienced the chest pain that occurs when the heart runs short of oxygen. This means that the drug reduces symptoms and has the potential to reduce the need for angioplasty, surgery, and hospital admissions, the researchers claim.

“The fact that allopurinol has been shown to work in several different ways means it possesses exciting potential for use in heart disease patients,” said Professor Allan Struthers. “Our work has been leading towards allopurinol improving both symptoms and survival rates. We have already shown the former to be the case, and this latest research shows that the latter may also be true.”

In the new study, 66 heart disease patients were randomly assigned to treatment with allopurinol or placebo for 9 months. The results showed that the thickness of the heart-muscle wall was significantly reduced in the allopurinol group. According to the researchers, allopurinol probably had this effect for two reasons: 1) The drug reduces the oxidative stress that leads to the production of oxidative free radicals, which in turn cause thickening of the left ventricle; and 2) allopurinol improves the health of blood vessels, resulting in less vascular resistance against the pumping of the heart, which can cause LVH.

Struthers says that the next step is to conduct a large-scale trial involving thousands of patients, with the aim of proving that allopurinol improves survival rates.

“What we have shown is that it has properties which potentially improve vascular health, reduce pain for angina patients, reduce oxidative stress, and potentially prevent sudden death, heart failure, stroke and possibly heart attacks,” Struthers said. “We live in an age of austerity, and finding new uses for old drugs that are cheap and safe is exactly what we need at this time.”

Source: University of Dundee; March 5, 2013.

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