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Friday, October 23, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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People’s Pharmacy: Heart rhythm drug ‘poisoned’ lungs

UPDATED: Wed., Sept. 30, 2020

By Joe Graedon, M.S.,</p><p>and Teresa Graedon, Ph.D. King Features Syndicate

Q. My healthy husband went for a physical because he was going to retire. They found he had an irregular heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation and put him on amiodarone.

Within a few months, he could not function and went in for a cardioversion. They said he was not getting enough oxygen, and he was admitted to intensive care for three weeks. There, they diagnosed him with lung poisoning from the drug. He was intubated and never woke up. My beloved husband died, and I deeply regret watching him take that drug each day.

A. Your story is tragic and should never have happened. Amiodarone hasn’t been approved for treating atrial fibrillation. The Food and Drug Administration says the drug must only be prescribed for life-threatening heart rhythm abnormalities such as recurrent ventricular fibrillation.

Amiodarone can cause lung toxicity. It can harm the liver and thyroid gland, and it should be reserved for situations when other treatments have failed.

Q. For the past six years, I’ve been taking levothyroxine for hypothyroidism. However, over that time, my cholesterol has been slowly creeping up. My doctor didn’t feel I needed a statin because my HDL and LDL are at good levels. Nonetheless, total cholesterol of 235 bothered me because I really watch what I eat.

Through conversation, someone suggested taking a daily dose of Metamucil. Sure enough, my cholesterol dropped 30 points in six months! Could my thyroid medicine have caused an increase in cholesterol levels?

A. Undertreated hypothyroidism can raise total cholesterol. Even when the underactive thyroid gland is adequately treated with levothyroxine, cholesterol levels might not normalize (Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, December 2018).

Regular use of psyllium – the soluble fiber found in Metamucil – can indeed lower cholesterol levels. You can learn more about thyroid function and nondrug approaches to lowering cholesterol in our eGuides to Thyroid Hormones and Cholesterol Control & Heart Health available at

Q. Are home blood pressure monitoring machines accurate? I have had trouble with mine over the years. My readings fluctuate quite a lot. I know variability is normal, based on activity level, stress or whether one just drank coffee. My average with random readings over the last week: 133/87.

My resting heart rate is in the high 80s or low 90s. When I was taking a low dose of atenolol last year, my heart rate was usually in the 60s. What should I make of this? I am a 63-year-old woman with no known heart disease.

A. Home blood pressure monitors are generally very accurate. Consumer Reports has evaluated many different models over the decades. The Omron brand consistently ranks very highly for ease of use and accuracy. Prices range from $50 to $100.

We recommend checking your device by taking it with you to your next in-person doctor’s visit. Have the nurse measure your blood pressure several times in the same arm with both devices to compare the readings.

Atenolol is a beta blocker that can lower blood pressure and slow heart rate. Beta blockers are no longer considered first-line treatment for high blood pressure by most cardiologists. Since your resting heart rate is a bit higher than usual, your physician might want to reconsider whether a beta blocker might be appropriate. Your blood pressure is slightly above the current target of 130/80s.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters fr om readers. Write to them in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email them via their website: Their newest book is “Top Screoctors Make and How to Avoid Them.”

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