Public Release: 

Some common anti-nausea medications used post-operatively could increase patients' arrhythmia risk

St. Michael's Hospital

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IMAGE: This is Dr. Andrea Tricco, St. Michael's Hospital. view more

Credit: St. Michael's Hospital

TORONTO, June 18, 2015 - Certain commonly prescribed anti-nausea medications given to patients during or after an operation could increase their risk of developing an irregular heartbeat, new research has found.

Two studies published online today in BMC Medicine suggest granisetron (a serotonin 5-Ht3 receptor antagonist, also known as an anti-nausea medication) used in combination with a steroid, dexamethasone, are effective in preventing nausea or vomiting (or both) in patients following surgery. But this combination could also increase patients' arrhythmia risk, the research revealed.

Serotonin receptor antagonists are commonly used to reduce nausea and vomiting for patients during or after surgery.

"Often after being under anesthesia, patients experience nausea and vomiting - or both," said Dr. Andrea Tricco, lead author and a scientist in St. Michael's Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute. "Evidence suggests post-operative vomiting not only decreases patient satisfaction but can be detrimental. You could pull out your stitches or experience aspiration pneumonia, prolonging your hospital stay."

"We were commissioned by Health Canada to examine which drugs are effective and safe," she said. "Our research aims to draw attention to medications that can make a difference - and those that carry risks patients and clinicians should be mindful of."

In 2011, Health Canada pulled dolasetron mesylate (more commonly known as Anzemet) from the market because it could cause a deadly and irregular heart rhythm. Dr. Tricco's results do not suggest that dolasetron increased the risk of arrhythmia in adults. The study turned up inconclusive findings related to the drug's effect on children, due to lack of data.

The safest serotonin receptor antagonists with respect to arrhythmia were ondansetron plus dexamethasone, and dolasetron for patients of all ages, and ondansetron plus dexamethasone for children, the study found.

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Dr. Tricco, who has a PhD in population health, is also an associate professor in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.

This study was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research/Drug Safety and Effectiveness Network.

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael's Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the hospital's recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael's Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.

Media contacts

For more information, or to arrange an interview with Dr. Tricco, please contact:

Melissa Di Costanzo
Adviser, Media Relations, St. Michael's Hospital
416-864-6060 ext. 6537
dicostanzom@smh.ca

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