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The link between the class of medications known as proton pump inhibitors and the risk of heart attack is so strong that many people should not take them, a new study says.

For some of us, treating heartburn can lead to heart attack, recently reported research reveals.

A novel "data mining" study by researchers at Houston Methodist Hospital and Stanford University has found that the antacid medications known as proton inhibitors increases the risk of a heart attack by 16 to 21 percent. Dr. Nicholas J. Leeper, an assistant professor of cardiovascular medicine and vascular surgery at the Stanford medical school, and one of the authors of the study, says the risk is not limited to the elderly, and is so strong that doctors need to take it into account when prescribing medications such as the "little purple pill," Nexium. The study did not find increased heart dangers from another kind of medication for gastroesophageal reflux disease and chronic heartburn that includes Axid, Pepcid, Tagamet, and Zantac.

What Are The Proton Pump Inhibitors?

Proton pump inhibitors, also known as H2 inhibitors, are a group of drugs that reduce stomach acid production by disabling the "proton pump" that releases hydrogen ions from the lining of the stomach to make its contents acidic. These medications do not have any effect until they are absorbed into the lining of the stomach, where they permanently disable acid production. The H2 inhibitors reduce the amount of acid in the stomach and also in the duodenum, the first section of the small intestine.
 
Proton pump inhibitors come in many formulations under many brand names. Some of the most popular brands of this $13 billion a year drug classification include:
  • Dexlansoprazol (Dexilant, Kapidex).
  • Esomeprazole (Esotrex, Nexium).
  • Lansoprazole (Prevacid, Zoton, Inhibitol).
  • Omeprazole, which is currently available over the counter in the United States (Prilosec, Gasec, Losec, Zegerid, Ocid, Lomac, Omepral, Omez, Omepep, UlcerGard, GastroGard, Altose).
  • Pantoprazole (Controloc, Protonix, Pantoloc, Pantozol, Pantomed, Zurcal, Zentro,Tecta, and others).
  • Rabeprazole (Aciphex, Dorafem, Nzole-D, and many others).
In the United States and Canada, the bestsellers of this group are Nexium, Pepcid, and Prilosec, although there are many competing medications. They begin to work in as little as 30 minutes, and they continue to work for up to three days, even if a dose of the medication is skipped, until the lining of the stomach grows new acid-producing cells.

Millions Of People Use Proton Pump Inhibitors

An astonishingly large number of people use proton pump inhibitors to control heartburn. In the United States, about one out of every fourteen people, over twenty-two million people in all, take a proton pump inhibitor such as Nexium, Prilosec, or Prevacid. These medications are most commonly prescribed for GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease, or chronic heartburn), but they are also prescribed for Helicobacter pylori infections, peptic ulcers, duodenal ulcers, and Barrett's esophagus, a complication of chronic GERD in which the lining of the lower throat turns into tissue that resembles the lining of the intestine. Barrett's esophagus increases the likelihood of developing esophageal cancer.

Over a lifetime of use, these medications attribute to an addition two to three million heart attacks in the United States alone. The additional danger from taking them in any given year is not particularly high, but the lifetime risk of using these medications adds up, enough that anyone who otherwise has high risk factors for heart disease probably should avoid them.

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