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Asthma, Bowel Cleansers -- And What You Should Know

Two pieces of news from the FDA -- on common bowel cleansers and popular asthma drugs -- are sure to puzzle some readers. How can we be sure that the drugs we take are safe?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) yesterday ordered that a black-box warning -- the most severe cautionary message -- be applied to certain prescription tablets used to cleanse the colon in preparation for colonoscopies. Visicol and OsmoPrep have been linked to at least 20 cases of kidney failure. The boxed warning on packages for these drugs will caution against their use by people over 55, those who suffer dehydration or kidney disease, and those who take medications that affect the kidneys. The agency is also taking a hard look at the safety of over-the-counter bowel cleansers, which may cause kidney damage if not taken with sufficient amounts of water.

Also on Thursday, a panel of nearly 30 experts advised the FDA to restrict use of two of four leading asthma inhalers. Foradil and Serevent contain long-acting beta agonists, or LABA, which relax throat muscles and allow for easier breathing. But, unlike top-selling Advair and Symbicort, they don't also contain steroids that can reduce inflammation that might contribute to a new asthma attack. The FDA's own team of experts had disagreed about whether use of the four medications ought to be restricted, particularly among children; outside experts suggested that Advair and Symbicort continue to be used without restriction but that Foradil and Serevent should not be used. The FDA cautions that nobody should change his or her asthma treatment regimen without consulting a physician.

The FDA's job is to keep us abreast of the best evidence that science has to offer. But it's our job to read the labels and consult our physicians. As these changes show, medical science is an incremental process; drugs once thought safe can show unanticipated -- and frightening -- side-effects. Our doctors are there to help us figure out how to respond to changes such as these.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  December 12, 2008; 10:33 AM ET
Categories:  General Health  
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