Researchers in Dundee who discovered that salt levels in common medicines could be putting patients at increased risk of heart attack could now force the widespread re-labelling of medication across Europe.
A 2013 study led by Dr Jacob George from Dundee University’s School of Medicine showed that millions of patients were exceeding recommended daily limits for sodium without any additional dietary intake.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has now used this evidence to recommend a continent-wide change in labelling for all medicines manufactured, sold, distributed and consumed in Europe.
Many commonly prescribed medicines have sodium added to improve their absorption into the body but excess salt is harmful to heart health.
Dr George and his colleagues including collaborators from University College London compared the risk of fatal heart attack, non-fatal stroke or vascular death in patients taking sodium-containing effervescent, dispersible and soluble medications with those taking non-sodium versions of the same drugs between 1987 and 2010.
Overall, patients taking the sodium-containing medications had a 16 per cent increased risk of cardiovascular events.
As a result, the researchers called for the public to be warned about the potential dangers of high sodium intake from prescribed medicines and for sodium-containing formulations to be prescribed with caution only if the perceived benefits outweigh the risks.
They also called for the sodium content of medicines to be clearly labelled in the same way as foods are.
Dr George said, “We are delighted that our research has had this impact and has led to the EMA to recommend this action.
“It is vital that the public are given the correct information about the medicine they are taking to ensure it does not lead to more serious health complications.
“Prescription of these sodium-containing formulations should be done with caution and patients prescribed them should be closely monitored for the emergence of hypertension and heart problems.
“Taking the maximum daily dose of some medicines can significantly increase the chances of cardiovascular events so this is a matter of public health importance and we felt it was vitally important for salt content of medicines to be labelled in same way as foods.”
City the evidence gathered by the Dundee and London teams, the EMA has recommended that the labelling of medicines should be updated to make the sodium content clearer for patients and health care professionals.
They agreed that medicines which contain above a certain threshold should be clearly labelled as being high in sodium and that these changes should come into force at the soonest opportunity.