Common heartburn medications are linked to heart attacks

Research made possible by data mining reveals evidence that a common group of heartburn medications is associated with a greater risk of heart attack, according to Stanford University researchers, Lenny Bernstein reports for The Washington Post.

The heartburn drugs in question are known as proton-pump inhibitors, such as Nexium, Prilosec and Prevacid. Bernstein writes that “they are some of the most widely used drugs in the world and that an estimated 113 million prescriptions for the drugs are written for them around the world each year.”

Bernstein notes that the Stanford study, published in the online journal PLOS One, recognizes that it was not designed to show cause and effect, and agrees that a large, prospective clinical study could establish whether the drugs are actually causing more heart attacks.

But one of the authors of the study, Nicholas J. Leeper, an assistant professor of cardiovascular medicine and vascular surgery at Stanford, told Bernstein that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration “should be aware of these findings” and “we do think patients should think about their risks and benefits and should discuss their risk with their doctor.”

Nigam Shah, lead author of the research, cautioned that because some of these drugs are now available over the counter, it is important to tell your physician if you are taking them.

The research combed through 16 million electronic records of 2.9 million patients in two separate databases (one database was from hospital patients and the other from private office or clinic patients) and found that people who take the medication to suppress the release of stomach acid are 16 to 21 percent more likely to have a heart attack, Bernstein reports.

The research theorizes that proton pump inhibitors may reduce production of nitric oxide from cells that line the inside of the circulatory system, including the heart. Lower levels of nitric oxide have long been associated with cardiovascular problems, Leeper told Bernstein. This theory is being tested in the lab.

The Stanford study found no association between medications that combat heartburn by blocking histamine production, like Zantac and Pepcid, and increased risk of heart attack.

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