Q. I recently saw an ad for a lawsuit involving the diabetes drug Actos. Is it safe for me to continue taking it?
A. That all depends.
Pioglitazone (Actos) and a similar drug, rosiglitazone (Avandia), are in a class of medications known as thiazolidinediones, which are used to treat type 2 diabetes. In August 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first generic versions of pioglitazone.
Thiazolidinediones — whether used alone or in combination with other antidiabetic agents — can cause or worsen congestive heart failure. For that reason, people with heart failure should not use them, and those with risk factors for heart failure — such as high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, a history of heart attack or irregular heartbeats — should use them with caution. Both Actos and its generic equivalent are labeled with a "black box" safety warning to that effect.
The drugs also carry a warning of a possible increased risk of bladder cancer based on the FDA's analysis of five-year results from an ongoing, 10-year study in California. While the analysis found no overall increased risk of bladder cancer associated with the use of pioglitazone, it did find a slightly increased risk among patients with the longest exposure to — and highest cumulative doses of — the drug. So if you have a history of bladder cancer, or have other risk factors for bladder cancer, you also may want to avoid the drugs.