COX-2 inhibitors and the heart: are all coxibs the same?
The selective COX-2 inhibitors (coxibs) were originally developed to minimise the adverse effects of conventional non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) while maintaining the same analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. Many large studies confirmed the improved gastric side effect profile of coxibs compared with non-selective NSAIDs; however, reports of increased cardiovascular morbidity and mortality followed, and the manufacturer Merck was forced to withdraw rofecoxib (Vioxx) from the market. Other coxibs have also either perished or had restrictions placed on their use. However, there seem to be significant differences between coxibs regarding their cardiovascular profiles, and the evidence for a class effect is dubious. In this paper, the current body of knowledge regarding the cardiovascular toxicities of coxibs is reviewed. The take home message for prescribing NSAIDs and those coxibs still on the market seems to be one of caution rather than contraindication, except in patients with significant cardiovascular risk factors.