Heart Attack: Some Heartburn Drugs Might Actually Increase Risk

First Posted: Jun 11, 2015 04:37 PM EDT

Could heartburn increase your risk of heart attack?

New findings published in the journal PLOS ONE reveal that people prescribed the antacid known as proton pump inhibitors are more likely to experience a heart attack when compared to those not on the medication.

For the study, researchers examined over 16 million clinical records collected from 2.9 million patients diagnosed with heartburn. Their findings revealed that users of proton pump inhibitors, including Prilosec (omeprazole), which are often used to treat people who suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or heartburn, had a 16 to 21 percent higher risk of suffering a heart attack than those who did not use the drugs.

The findings support previous research suggesting that PPIs cause biochemical reactions in the body that reduce nitric oxide levels in endothelial cells. In other words, keeping nitric oxide levels in the body stable is essential for dilating the walls of blood vessels and maintain good cardiovascular health, in general. Furthermore, a reduction in nitric oxide levels increases the risk of cardiovascular issues, including heart attacks.

The recent study also suggests that the increased potential for heart attack affects anyone who uses PPIs, whether they have been diagnosed with predisposed cardiovascular risk or not.

"By looking at data from people who were given PPI drugs primarily for acid reflux and had no prior history of heart disease, our data-mining pipeline signals an association with a higher rate of heart attacks," Dr. Nigam H. Shah, assistant professor of biomedical informatics at Stanford and co-author of the study, said, in a news release. "Our results demonstrate that PPIs appear to be associated with elevated risk of heart attack in the general population, and H2 blockers show no such association."

Fortunately, Shah also pointed out that for those not at risk of a heart attack, the increased risk is amazingly low--from a 1 in a million chance to 1.2 in a million. However, for those with a higher risk, Shah recommends discussing PPL use with a doctor.

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