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People battling chronic heartburn, acid reflux, and other gastrointestinal conditions with proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) — such as Nexium, Prilosec, and Prevacid — are at a greater risk of heart attacks, according to a new study.

Researchers at Houston Methodist and Stanford University collected data from nearly 3 million patients and found those using PPIs had a 16–21 percent greater risk of heart attacks than those who were not using the drugs. The study, published in PLOS ONE, built on earlier research suggesting that PPIs can damage blood vessel linings, according to senior author John Cooke, MD, PhD.

“Our earlier work identified that the PPIs can adversely affect the endothelium, the Teflon-like lining of the blood vessels,” Cooke explained in a statement released by Houston Methodist. “That observation led us to hypothesize that anyone taking PPIs may be at greater risk for heart attack. Accordingly, in two large populations of patients, we asked what happened to people that were on PPIs versus other medications for the stomach.”

PPIs have been under some scrutiny for several years, as research emerged showing a greater risk of developing severe side effects, ranging from gastrointestinal infections to pneumonia.

For more on alternative treatments for digestive ailments, see “The Other Drug Problem” from our April 2011 issue.

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