Benefits, risks of heart failure drug questioned

The jury is still out on who needs nesiritide, a heart failure drug, as well as what its risks are.

A drug designed to ease heart failure flare-ups has come under fire because it may harm the kidneys and cause premature death. The drug, nesiritide (Natrecor), was approved by the FDA in 2001 for treating people in the midst of a heart failure crisis who were hospitalized because they had trouble breathing. An infusion of the drug quickly and effectively makes it easier to breathe.

Nesiritide (neh-SEAR-eh-tide) became a hit with many doctors, even though at $500 an infusion it costs far more than diuretics and other inexpensive drugs that often work just as well. Some doctors also started using it as a kind of routine tune-up for people with serious but stable heart failure. As of mid-2005, an estimated 600,000 people have been treated with nesiritide.

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