Heart Disease, Death Linked to Popular Z-Pak Antibiotic, Study Finds

A popular antibiotic is the subject of a new heart disease warning after it was linked to heart disease and death in a study.

Azithromycin- often prescribed as Zithromax or a Z-Pak- is a very effective broad-spectrum antibiotic used for a variety of bacterial ailments, from strep throat to sexually transmitted diseases. But while a severe infection can result in serious health consequences, a new study of instances of heart disease linked to Zithromax suggests that risks may be greater than no antibiotic treatment at all.

The data in the heart disease study comes from nearly 350,000 azithromycin prescriptions in Medicaid patients between 1995 and 2006. In those with a high risk of heart disease and death, 245 extra deaths per million are associated with a course of azithromycin. For every million courses of Zithromax otherwise, 47 extra heart deaths are expected to result.

Wayne A. Ray, PhD, is a professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University. Ray led the study, and explains that the numbers uncovered by the heart disease and death study really only represent a small risk when considering a Z-Pak course:

“It’s a small risk. And if you look carefully, you’ll see that all antibiotics have serious risks… For most patients, this is a relatively small risk.”

zithromax heart risk

Researchers discovered that azithromycin posed three times the risk of heart disease and death compared to no antibiotic course at all, and twice the risk of a course of amoxicillin. Ray explains:

“When an equally effective alternative is available, it should be used for patients at high cardiac risk.”

The study concerning azithromycin and heart disease and death was published in the May 17th edition of The New England Journal of Medicine.