Gout is an arthritic disease that develops from high levels of uric acid in the blood. It causes sudden and severe pain, redness, warmth, and swelling, particularly in the toes. A medication commonly used to treat grout, probenecid, works by helping the kidneys get rid of uric acid.
Now a new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association reports that probenecid improved heart function in some heart failure patients. Heart failure, which is estimated to affect around 5.7 million adults in the United States, is when the heart can’t pump enough oxygen-rich blood to support the other organs. There is no cure for heart failure, but there are treatments available to manage the condition.
Promising results in initial study
Probenecid may be an effective alternative to more invasive treatments such as an LVAD—a battery-powered device surgically implanted into the heart to improve the heart’s function. Researchers at University of Cincinnati College of Medicine conducted a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study on the effect of probenecid on heart failure. They found that the drug led to improvements in the participants’ ability to pump blood.
The benefit of using probenecid is that it’s a very safe drug. It has been in use for decades, and has no significant side effects. While the medical community will need to conduct large-scale clinical trials to determine if probenecid is truly an effective treatment for heart failure, the results of this initial study are promising. This could be a new way to treat heart failure, which has limited and invasive treatments today.
Medical re-purposing: off-label drug use
“Off-label” prescribing is a completely legal practice where doctors prescribe medications or therapies for unapproved conditions. The FDA approves new drugs after they go through rigorous testing for specific conditions. But many times a medication will help a different condition, not included in the FDA approval. Doctors are free to prescribe any drug they think will help your complaint. Off-label use is actually so common that at least one in five outpatient prescriptions are off-label.
Should further testing show that probenecid is effective in treating heart failure, many doctors will probably begin prescribing it off-label.