You may have seen the recent headlines declaring that heartburn medicines – specifically the proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) such as Nexium, Prilosec, and Protonix – can cause heart attacks. Is this true? Should you be concerned if you take one of these medications?

The Verdict: No And No! Here’s Why

The current headlines are based on a recent study published in the online journal Plos One. In this self described “data mining” study – in itself a clue to the type of research being conducted – the authors queried several large patient databases to identify associations between medication use and heart disease. Not surprisingly, they found an association between PPI use and heart attacks. Why is this not surprising?

In general, patients who use PPIs, compared to those who do not, tend to have other health problems. Patients with heartburn who require PPIs are often older, smoke more, drink more alcohol, and are more overweight (this is in general). Also, many patients who take PPIs have heartburn symptoms because they have to take aspirin for their known heart disease. Did the PPIs cause their heart disease? No. PPI use is purely a marker of other health problems. Therefore, this is in no way a cause-and-effect relationship.

As another example, patients with diabetes tend to use more insulin than patients without diabetes. Did the insulin cause diabetes? No. Same idea.

Multiple studies, including randomized, controlled, prospective trials, have demonstrated the long-term safety of the PPIs. For example, recent 5- and 12-year data demonstrate the excellent safety profile of PPIs:

Bottom Line

The current headlines shamefully misrepresent the findings from a very poor study. Don’t believe the hype.
-C. McGowan

If you have further questions, or would like to discuss this in more detail, please speak directly with your physician.