* Effervescent and dispersible drugs often high in sodium
* Researchers say some medicines exceed daily guidelines
* WHO recommends daily salt intake of a teaspoon or less
* Excessive salt intake linked to high blood pressure
By Kate Kelland
LONDON, Nov 27 Millions of patients worldwide
taking effervescent, dispersible and soluble medicines have an
increased risk of heart attacks and strokes because of the high
salt content of such drugs, scientists said on Wednesday.
Researchers from Britain's University of Dundee and
University College London found that with some "fizzy" versions
of painkillers, vitamin supplements or other common medicines,
taking the maximum daily dose would on its own exceed daily
recommended limits for sodium, the main component of salt.
High salt intake has been linked to high blood pressure, or
hypertension, which is a key risk factor for strokes, heart
attacks and other cardiovascular diseases.
In a study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ),
they found that patients taking dispersible forms of drugs had a
16 percent increased risk of a heart attack, stroke or vascular
death compared with patients taking the non-high-sodium versions
of the same medications.
Jacob George, an honorary consultant in clinical
pharmacology at Dundee who led the study, said patients, and
consumers of over-the-counter medicines - such as soluble
aspirin, effervescent vitamin C, or Bayer's Alka
Seltzer for example - "should be warned about the potential
dangers" of high sodium intake in medicines.
Doctors, he added, should be aware of the potential dangers
and prescribe fizzy or soluble forms of drugs "with caution,
only if the perceived benefits outweigh the risks".
"There are a lot of patients who need to use these
formulations - those who have difficulty swallowing large
tablets, for example," George told Reuters in a telephone
interview. "But what we want is for patients to be able to make
an informed decision with the help of their doctor."
Although there is some debate on the issue, many health
experts believe that eating too much salt is bad for health and
numerous studies have linked excess salt intake to high blood
pressure, which can lead to strokes and heart attacks.
The World Health Organisation recommends a daily upper limit
of sodium intake of less than 2 grams - equivalent to around 5
grams, or one teaspoon, of salt.
For this latest study, George's team tracked more than 1.2
million patients, comparing those taking sodium-containing
effervescent, dispersible and soluble medicines with those
taking non-sodium versions of the same drugs.
The study ran between 1987 and 2010 and patients were
tracked for an average of just over seven years.
During this time, over 61,000 new so-called cardiovascular
events - including heart attacks and strokes - occurred in the
patients being studied.
Factors likely to affect the results, such as body mass
index, smoking, alcohol intake, history of various chronic
illnesses and use of other medicines, were taken into account.
Beside the 16 percent higher risk of a heart problem or
stroke, the team also found patients taking sodium-containing
drugs were seven times more likely to develop high blood
pressure, and their overall death rate was 28 percent higher.
The researchers acknowledged that there is still some
controversy about the link between dietary sodium and heart
risks, but say their findings were anyway "potentially of public