Millions of Americans suffer from heartburn or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) and self treat with medications now easy to access over the counter. One group of heartburn medications, the PPIs (Proton Pump Inhibitors) has been found to increase risk of ischemic stroke. These medications include Prevacid, Protonix, Prilosec, and Nexium.
As opposed to being forms of calcium carbonate, such as Tums, or H2 (Histamine H2 Antagonist) blockers such as Pepcid and Zantac, the PPI’s reduce stomach acid production. They’re popularity has been skyrocketing over the last two decades and have become a mainstay treatment for multiple gastrointestinal issues including ulcers.
In this Danish study, researchers reviewed the records of 245,000 patients who were suffering from abdominal pain and reflux, and found 9,500 to later suffer from stroke. After adjusting out for other causes of heart disease and stroke they concluded that the Proton Pump Inhibitors increased these patients’ risk of ischemic stroke by 21%. It varied depending on the brand with Prevacid and Prilosec increasing stroke risk by 33%, Nexium by 50% and Protonix, 79%. They note that these were high doses of PPIs as low doses appeared NOT to increase risk of stroke.
This isn’t the first time, however, that PPIs have been implicated in serious disease. A few years back, the use of PPIs was found to increase risk of renal failure. Other risks associated with Proton Pump Inhibitors include increase risk of :
C. difficile (severe intestinal infections)
low magnesium levels leading to muscle spasms and arrhythmias
poor absorption of other medications
…to name a few
Researchers do not know why this class of drugs increases stroke risk. They theorize it may have something to do with altering gut bacteria, or prevention of vital nutrients being broken down to become absorbed since stomach acid levels are decreased.
However, those suffering from GERD can be prone to esophageal cancer if the stomach acid bombarding the lower esophagus fails to be subdued. For this reason, PPIs will still be recommended for severe reflux cases, but maybe lower doses and combinations with other drugs and lifestyle changes should be started first.