Stanford Study Finds Link between PPIs and Heart Attack

Medical researchers at Stanford University have found evidence that common heartburn medications used by millions of Americans are associated with increased risk of heart attack. The drugs are known as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and include Nexium, Prevacid, and Prilosec, all of which are available over the counter without a doctor prescription.

Medical researchers at Stanford University have found evidence that common heartburn medications used by millions of Americans are associated with increased risk of heart attack. The drugs are known as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and include Nexium, Prevacid, and Prilosec, all of which are available over the counter without a doctor prescription.

Stanford researchers mined data form nearly 3 million patients who took PPIs to treat heartburn, and found that these people were 16 – 21% more likely to suffer from a heart attack. According to the researchers, this increased risk of heart attack extended to people outside typical high-risk groups, and includes any person who takes PPIs to treat heartburn. Because of their access to electronic medical records, researchers were able to gather information from a wide population of PPI users, meaning they were not only finding incidents of heart attack in patients who were sick or elderly.

While the study did not provide evidence that PPIs cause an increased risks of heart attacks, the researchers gathered enough data to believe the link between the drugs and heart problems is strong. According to Nicholas J. Leeper, an assistant professor of cardiovascular medicine at Stanford, the researchers “do think patients should think about [PPI’s] risks and benefits and should discuss their risks with their doctors.” Leeper agreed that clinical tests are necessary to confirm the causal link between PPI use and heart attacks, but said that the Stanford data analysis was sufficient to make the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) aware of the connection between popular heartburn medications and heart health risks.

According to statistics on use of PPIs as heartburn medication, close to 21 million people receive prescriptions for these drugs every year. This means that about 1 out of every 14 Americans uses a prescription strength proton pump inhibitor to treat heartburn. Although there are not statistics that accurately reflect how many Americans use the over the counter versions of these drugs, sales figures on these drugs suggest that millions of people purchase and use PPIs to treat heartburn without a prescription. Nigam Shah, lead author of the Stanford research, cautioned that people who use PPIs purchased over the counter should talk to their doctor, particularly if they use the drug regularly for more than two weeks.
Among the PPIs identified in the study as linked to an increased risk of heart attack, the following are common in prescription or over- the-counter form:

• Prilosec – manufactured by AstraZeneca • Prilosec OTC – manufactured by Procter & Gamble • Nexium – manufactured by AstraZeneca and now available over the counter • Zegerid OTC – manufactured by Merck & Col and Santarus, Inc.
• Prevacid, Dexilant, & Kapidex – manufactured by Takada Pharmaceuticals USA • Protonix – manufactured by Wyeth • AcipHex – manufactured by Eisai Corporation
Large pharmaceutical companies responsible for manufacturing and selling PPIs as heartburn medication have not yet responded to the results of the Stanford study. As more research on the potential link between common heartburn medications and heart attacks develops, the companies may be pressed for answers about the safety of their products.
The Stanford study did not find a link between H2 blockers such as Pepcid and Zantac. Those medications combat heartburn in a different way and were not tied to increased risk of heart attack like PPIs.