Doctors say patients with high blood pressure should pay attention to and be ready to act on the trickle of drug recalls involving a commonly prescribed type of blood pressure medication – but warned against dropping a medicine without consulting a physician or pharmacist.
The Food and Drug Administration announced the recall of several versions of the valsartan in July over concerns that the drugs contained a possible cancer-causing impurity.
Several pharmaceutical companies have announced recalls of versions of valsartan, irbesartan and losartan. The affected drugs could contain an impurity called N-nitroso-diethylamine, a possible human carcinogen, according to the FDA.
Consumers can view a complete list of FDA updates on the recalls here.
The recalled drugs are part a large class of drugs called angiotensin II receptor blockers. ARBs work by widening or relaxing blood vessels, thus lowering a person’s blood pressure.
ARBs and another class of blood-pressure drugs called angiotensin converting-enzyme inhibitors, or ACE inhibitors, are often the first drugs doctors recommend to lower a patient’s blood pressure, according to Dr. Robert M. Carey, dean emeritus at the University of Virginia College of Medicine.
“These are recommended as first line therapy for high blood pressure,” said Carey, who co-chaired the clinical practice committee of the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology. “So when you get recalls, you do start to worry about what the alternatives would be.”
While a small number of ARBs have been recalled, Carey said, doctors and patients still have plenty of options. Patients are often prescribed an ACE inhibitor in lieu of an ARB. ACE inhibitors have not been affected by the recalls. Furthermore, several versions of ARB drugs also have not been recalled.
Carey said a small number of patients who take ACE inhibitors may develop a cough. Doctors often switch those patients to an ARB, or other drugs such as a diuretic or calcium-channel blocker.
“There are multiple agents in both of these classes that can serves as alternatives while the recall issue is being worked out,” Carey said.
Doctors urge patients who are currently taking versions of a recalled drug are to talk with their pharmacist or physician. Discontinuing use of a blood pressure drug can cause greater harm to a patient than the small increased risk of cancer.
Teva Pharmaceuticals’ recall announced this week affects combination tables that contain the drugs amlodipine and valsartan and another combo drug with amlodipine, valsartan, and hydrochlorothiazide. Consumers with questions can call Teva at 888-838-2872, or email email@example.com.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told USA TODAY this month that the agency is increasing its focus on drug quality to guard against the manufacturing problems that are suspected as the source of impurities found in the recalled blood pressure medications.