Benicar (olmesartan medoxomil) is a medication used to treat high blood pressure. It can cause gastrointestinal side effects so severe that they can be life-threatening and can cause permanent injuries. These side effects are often initially misdiagnosed as celiac disease, because of symptoms such as chronic diarrhea, vomiting, and rapid weight loss.
Benicar Gastrointestinal Harm
Benicar can cause an intestinal disease called sprue-like enteropathy. Symptoms include:
- Chronic diarrhea
- Rapid weight loss
- Severe malnutrition
People who develop sprue-like enteropathy as a result of taking Benicar often face a long, hard road to recovery. It can cause malnutrition so severe that it is life-threatening and causes permanent harm. Patients are often initially misdiagnosed with celiac disease, so they are not advised to stop taking the medication. They can spend months or years trying to find effective treatment.
When Benicar use is discontinued the symptoms begin to subside. However, for some patients significant harm has already occurred.
The Mayo Clinic studied 22 patients in 2012 who were using Benicar and experiencing gastrointestinal problems. They were initially diagnosed with celiac disease, but did not respond to treatment. When they were actually tested for celiac, the tests were negative. When they stopped taking Benicar their symptoms went away. The researchers determined that Benicar had caused the subjects to suffer from a rare gastrointestinal disease called sprue-like enteropathy.
Later, in October 2012, the American College of Gastroenterology found that there were 40 more sprue-like enteropathy linked to use of Benicar-based blood pressure medications.
Benicar can cause villous atrophy, which is erosion of the villi that line the intestinal walls. When this happens the intestines do not properly absorb nutrients, resulting in malnutrition. In May, 2013, the American Journal of Gastroenterology published a study in which researchers found that olmesartan users with chronic diarrhea, who tested negative for celiac, suffered from olmesartan-related villous atrophy which improved when they stopped taking the medication.
FDA Safety Warning
On July 3, 2013 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a safety announcement warning that Benicar can cause sprue-like enteropathy, and that symptoms can appear months or years after a person starts taking the drug. The FDA recommends switching to another blood pressure medication if you experience symptoms and no other cause is found.
Olmesartan is sold under the brand names Benicar, Benicar HCT, Azor, Tribenzor, and in generic form. Olmesartan is the only angiotensin receptor blocker (ARB) that has been found to cause sprue-like enteropathy.
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