New Study Links Gastric Reflux Medications to Heart Attacks

Friday, June 12, 2015

A new study out this month suggests that a popular class of drugs known as proton pump inhibitors used by millions of people daily may contribute to heart attacks and cardiovascular death.

The results were released this week in the online journal Public Library of Science, or PLOS One. Researchers based at Stanford University tracked more than 16 million medical records from 2.9 million patients.

What are PPIs?

Proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs) are a class of medications that are used for a variety of conditions stemming from gastric acid production. Now available both by prescription and over-the-counter, they are among the most widely used drugs in the world.

PPIs are generally taken to treat indigestion, heartburn, stomach ulcers and acid reflux, along with a few other conditions. Common brands include Prilosec, Prevacid, Nexium, Gasec and Protonix.

Heart Related Risks

Scientists found that patients taking PPIs for gastro-esophageal reflux disease experienced a 16% increased risk of myocardial infarction, or heart attack.

More troubling, they also noted that patients were twice as likely to die from a cardiovascular event.

The data gathering from existing records used for this study, known as “data mining,” isn’t as revealing as actual clinical trials. Therefore, the researchers suggested these drugs are still beneficial and patients should not stop taking them.

However, it does raise the need for more studies and patients are urged to speak with their doctors about possible risks. Since PPIs are relatively new, their long-term side effects haven’t been measured nearly as much as those from short-term use.

More testing Needed

As with any drug side effect, there is the possibility that it is related to the underlying medical condition for which the patients are taking the drugs. However, the researchers here pointed out that patients taking a different class of drugs, H2 blockers like Zantac, didn’t have the same increased risks.

Said lead researcher Nigam Shah, "PPIs may promote risk via an unknown mechanism that does not directly involve platelet aggregation. (recent) data demonstrating that PPIs inhibit DDAH [dimethylargininase] activity may explain how PPIs promote cardiovascular risk…”

DDAH is an enzyme essential in the regulating nitric oxide, which in turn balances vascular stability. The doctors noted this could be the mechanism of injury, although more testing is needed.

Follow DrugNews for more information on the risks involved with proton pump inhibitors and other medications.





Shah, N., et al. Proton Pump Inhibitor Usage and the Risk of Myocardial Infarction in the General Population. PLOS One. (June 10, 2015). Retrieved from


Pullen, L. Chronic Use of Proton Pump Inhibitors Increases Heart Risk. Medscape. (June 10, 2015). Retrieved from


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