Taking Olmesartan for High Blood Pressure? Beware of Harmful Side Effects

Photo: Linda Bartlett [Public Domain]
Photo: Linda Bartlett [Public Domain]
More and more Americans are becoming aware that when it comes to medical decisions, it is up to the patients to do their homework and not just rely on the doctor. At Stillman and Friedland our professionals are actively following trends in class action lawsuits against drug companies. Attorneys are now pursuing personal injury cases against Daiichi Sankyo, the manufacturer of Olmesartan, also known under the brand name Benicar.
According to industry data from May of this year, Olmesartan is number 32 on the list of the most-prescribed, best-selling drugs in the U.S. The Olmesartan HCT version is at number 39. Considered together, they would be at number 15 with over $7.8 billion in combined sales. About 1.9 million patients take Olmesartan to reduce high blood pressure. Chances are that someone you know is taking this drug.

Why are some patients suing?

One Olmesartan side effect is “sprue-like enteropathy.” “Sprue” is another term for celiac disease, an auto-immune disease in which exposure to gluten causes an immune reaction which erodes the intestinal lining; this is referred to as “enteropathy”.

Olmesartan does not cause celiac, but the damage can be the same. Erosion of the intestinal lining results in poor absorption of nutrients, leading to malnutrition and weight loss. Pain, poor digestion and diarrhea are the obvious symptoms of intestinal damage, but other side effects are possible as the complications of malnutrition are many and various. Some patients never regain digestive function, others are left with chronic pain.

Other commonly reported side effects include arthritis, chest pain, irregular heartbeat, and kidney and liver impairment.

We reviewed the literature, and these symptoms may take months or years to develop, while the Olmesartan was only tested in a short-term trial while intended for long-term use. Since side effects may take time to appear, the patients and doctors will be less likely to connect the problem to the drug already in long-term use. If the doctor fails to make the connection with Olmesartan use, the patient may go through months of anti-diarrheic medications and digestive system tests before the real problem is discovered, if at all.

The drug company spent a lot of money promoting their product—about $1 billion over 6 years —- and also made unsubstantiated claims:

The U.S. Department of Justice claimed Daiichi Sankyo paid illegal kickbacks to doctors who prescribed Benicar, violating the False Claims Act. The company settled the case for $39 million in April of 2015.

The Physician Payment Sunshine Act, passed in 2010 and finally enacted in 2013, mandates that pharmaceutical companies report payments or gifts over $10 made to doctors. What was revealed when reporting began is that the pharmaceutical industry spent $23 million per day on this kind of drug promotion in gifts and payments to doctors and hospitals.

Given the intense promotion of pharmaceuticals to health care providers, is it surprising that there is a tendency in the U.S. to over-prescribe medications? If doctors constantly receive gifts from and attend seminars subsidized by drug companies, they will also promote these drugs to their patients.

In the case of Olmesartan, doctors continue to prescribe it for high blood pressure, because the risk of extreme reactions is “low enough.” This extreme-reaction calculation is only based on patients who complained of digestive and unexplained weight-loss issues and whose physicians diagnosed their enteropathy and reported the connection between their medication and their digestive issues. However, up to 10% of patients using it have adverse less severe symptoms, according to reported data.

If you are taking prescribed medicines and are not feeling an improvement in your state of well-being, ask your doctor if you can reduce the medications you are taking. If you have taken Olmesartan for blood pressure and feel that your health has deteriorated, you can contact Stillman and Friedland for a free consultation to see if you have a case against the drug manufacturer, and how to proceed.

* This blog entry should not be construed as medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Only a licensed medical professional can properly diagnose and treat medical conditions. If you have any question regarding your health, please consult with your healthcare provider.

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