Are Heartburn Drugs Increasing Stroke Risk?

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A new study suggests that many heartburn medications typically classified as proton pump inhibitors – including Nexium, Prevacid, Prilosec, and Protonix, may be increasing the risk of stroke. The study showed that these drugs, also known as PPIs, increased the risk of stroke by up to 21 percent, according to the lead author of the study, Dr. Thomas Sehested, who is the research director at the Danish Heart Foundation in Copenhagen. He continued to add that the risk is higher in people who take high doses of these PPIs, and the extent of risk depends on the specific PPI being consumed.

Proton Pump Inhibitors

Proton pump inhibitors basically work to reduce heartburn by blocking acid producing cells in the lining of the stomach. These PPIs have previously been linked to other diseases such as heart disease, heart attacks, and even dementia. There still hasn’t been established whether there is a direct cause and effect relation between the use of this PPIs and stroke – research has only gone as far as to determine an association.

PPIs specifically increase the risk of ischemic stroke – which is the most common type. It occurs when a clot blocks the blood flow to the brain. Depending on the type of PPI taken, the risk of stroke is different. At the highest dose, the risk is 30% for lansoprazole whereas it is 94% for pantoprazole.

During the study, researched checked to see which type of PPI the patients were taking, and broadened the scope to H2, which is another class of antacids. But the results showed increased risk of stroke in patients taking PPIs and none in patients taking H2.

Doctors are now concerned because most PPIs are available over the counter. The study is unclear about why PPIs are affecting the health of patients in such an adverse way. According to Dr. Sehested, the PPIs might be reducing levels of certain biochemicals which would lead to the hardening of arteries. But this is only speculation.

The results of the study were presented at the American Heart Association’s annual meeting in New Orleans. These findings still need to be peer-reviewed for publication in medical journals and are only preliminary.

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