Nicotine patch safe after heart attack

Nicotine replacement therapy appears to be safe for people discharged from the hospital after suffering a heart attack or angina, according to a small new study.

The results are good news for a group of patients whose need to quit smoking is especially pressing, researchers said.

"We know continued smoking after a heart attack greatly increases the risk of a recurrent heart attack, (but) the ability of patients to quit smoking cold turkey is pretty low in general," said Dr Kevin Woolf, a cardiologist at Hillsboro Cardiology in Oregon, who led the study.

How the study was done

To see whether nicotine replacement therapies were harmful in these patients, Dr. Woolf and his colleagues collected medical information on 663 smokers discharged from the hospital after having acute coronary syndrome.

Doctors prescribed a nicotine replacement product, in most cases the patch, to 184 of the patients. After one year, the patients who received a prescription fared about as well as those who didn't.

Dr. Woolf and his colleagues report in the American Journal of Cardiology, out June 22, that 29% of the people in the nicotine group and 31% of the people in the other group died or experienced another major heart problem within a year of leaving the hospital.

"This study adds support to safely using this medication after an acute coronary syndrome," Dr Woolf said.

Dr. Stephen Kimmel, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said the study backs up many cardiologists who had already considered nicotine replacement safe.

Dr. Woolf said having an anti-smoking aid available to smokers right out of the hospital is important "because it's a golden opportunity to assist them."

The study didn't find out whether patients prescribed nicotine replacement therapy actually used it, nor whether those who were not prescribed it might have gotten their own over-the-counter nicotine replacement products.

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