A data-mining project reveals evidence that a common heartburn medication prescribed more than 100 million times a year is associated with a greater risk of heart attacks, Stanford University researchers reported yesterday.
After combing through 16 million electronic records of 2.9 million patients in two separate databases, the researchers found that people who take the medication to suppress the release of stomach acid are 16 percent to 21 percent more likely to suffer myocardial infarction, commonly known as heart attack.
Because of its design, the study could not show cause and effect.
But the link between the drugs, known as proton pump inhibitors, and heart attacks is strong enough that "we do think patients should think about their risks and benefits and should discuss their risk with their doctors," said Nicholas Leeper, an assistant professor of cardiovascular medicine and vascular surgery at Stanford and one of the authors of the study.
Leeper said the Food and Drug Administration "should be aware of these findings," but agreed that only a large clinical study could establish whether the drugs, available both by prescription and over the counter, are actually causing more heart attacks.
Proton pump inhibitors such as Nexium, Prilosec and Prevacid are among the most widely used drugs in the world. They work by blocking the secretion of acid into the stomach to reduce or eliminate heartburn and have been widely considered effective, with few side effects.
The research theorizes that proton pump inhibitors may reduce production of nitric oxide from cells that line the inside of the circulatory system, including the heart.