June 11, 2015 — Researchers who analyzed data on nearly three million people have found a 16-21% increased risk of heart attack associated with the use of heartburn medications in the proton pump inhibitor (PPI) class, such as Prilosec and Prevacid.
The study, published by researchers at Stanford University in PLOS One, used a new approach for mining vast amounts of data in electronic medical records on 2.9 million patients.
The study did not show that PPIs caused heart attacks, but researchers said if the technology had been available, “such pharmacovigilance algorithms could have flagged this risk as early as the year 2000.”
Researchers did not find any risk of heart attack from another group of heartburn drugs, such as Zantac and Pepcid, which work in a different way. They theorized that PPIs could reduce production of nitric oxide from cells lining blood vessels in the heart, which has long been associated with cardiovascular problems.
The link was strong enough that researchers warned that “patients should think about their risks and benefits and should discuss their risk with their doctors.” Furthermore, because some PPIs are now available over the counter, the lead author of the study recommends telling your doctor if you are taking PPIs for more than two weeks.
PPIs are among the world’s most widely-prescribed medications, generating $14 billion in annual sales. Every year, about 20 million Americans (about one in every 15 adults) use a PPI for heartburn, acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), according to the researchers.
Previous studies found that PPI use was associated with poor outcomes for patients with pre-existing heart disease, possibly due to an interaction with Plavix (clopidogrel). This study found higher rates of heart attack regardless of whether the patient was taking Plavix.
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