Heartburn Drugs Linked to Pneumonia in Hospital Patients

A new study from the May 27 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) entitled “Acid-Suppressive Medication Use and the Risk for Hospital-Acquired Pneumonia” has found that hospital patients who are given certain heartburn drugs like Prilosec, Nexium, and Prevacid are at higher risk for pneumonia than those who are not given these medications. In fact, the study determined that there was a 30% increased risk for pneumonia among hospital patients taking these types of medications, called proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs).

The drugs are often recommended for intensive-care patients to prevent stress ulcers. However, in recent years they have been given, often unnecessarily, to a large percentage of inpatients largely because they are widely considered to be safe drugs. Experts estimate that over 50% of all inpatients now receive acid-suppressive drugs during a hospital stay, and half of those patients are receiving the medication for the very first time.

The overprescription of these drugs in the hospital setting is staggering because this is not the first time that these medications have been linked to pneumonia. In fact, a study reported in 2004 found an association between community-acquired pneumonia (in non-hospitalized people) and acid-suppressing meds. Therefore, it is unsurprising that a link has now been found with hospital-acquired pneumonia.

However, despite these studies, the FDA-approved labels for Nexium, Prilosec, and Prevacid remain void of any warnings about the increased risk of pneumonia. In fact, Prevacid’s label is the only one that even states that a single case of pneumonia was ever reported by a patient taking the drug.

Despite the lack of information provided by the drug manufacturers, the causal relationship can still be explained. Although stomach acid is negatively viewed since it causes heartburn, acid reflux symptoms, and other painful conditions, its presence is also necessary to digest food and to act as a first defense against viruses, bacteria, and other harmful organisms entering your body through your mouth. Therefore, heartburn drugs by reducing stomach acid, are also reducing one of the body’s defense mechanisms against the germs causing pneumonia.

If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with pneumonia after a hospital stay, in which one of these heartburn medications was unnecessarily prescribed, please contact Pogust Braslow & Millrood for a free consultation.