"Healing" drugs sometimes don't

The case of Israeli Prime Minister Sharon’s need for brain surgery has brought heightened focus to the advisability of using strong blood thinners. Treating people who’ve had a stroke with powerful blood thinning medications such as warfarin seems to increase the risk of brain hemorrhaging. And this bleeding in the brain, known as a type of hemorrhagic stroke and caused by a blood vessel bursting, is much more lethal than the more common ischemic stroke (a blood vessel gets blocked by something like a blood clot). Fatalities are 50% and higher.

Just points to our growing need to continually test our “proven” remedies. As medical interventions grow ever more sophisticated and surgeons go where no one has dared tread before, we must carefully monitor the followup treatments for levels of true effectiveness. One of the most recent class of drugs to fall victim to “let’s do it like we’ve always done it” syndrome is those for lowering cholesterol. New guidelines say our cholesterol should be so low that almost everyone in the world (well, at least in the U.S.) “should” be on cholesterol-lowering drugs. A Framingham study reported in JAMA notes that, even though at younger ages lower cholesterol does seem to relate to longevity, cholesterol levels for people over 50 seem to have lost any demonstrable link to mortality.

Upshot: be extra careful what you claim about drugs. As research and testing also grow more sophisticated, yesterday’s claims can come back to bite you big-time.