Popular heartburn drugs — already under investigation for possible links to dementia, kidney and heart problems — have a new health concern to add to the list. An analysis of almost 250,000 medical records in Denmark has found an association with stroke.
Researchers from the Danish Heart Foundation in Copenhagen studied patients undergoing gastric endoscopy from 1997 to 2012. About 9,500 of all patients studied suffered from ischemic strokes, which occur when a blood clot blocks a blood vessel in the brain.
Overall, the risk of stroke was 21 percent higher in patients taking a proton pump inhibitor, a drug that relieves heartburn, the researchers reported November 15 during the American Heart Association’s annual meeting. While those patients also tended to be older and sicker to start with, the level of risk was associated with dose, the researchers found. People taking the lowest drug doses (between 10 and 20 milligrams a day, depending on the drug) did not have a higher risk. At the highest doses, though, Prevacid (more than 60 mg/day) carried a 30 percent higher risk and Protonix (more than 80 mg/day) a 94 percent higher risk. For Prilosec and Nexium, stroke risk fell within that range.
Introduced in the 1980s, proton pump inhibitors are available in both prescription and over-the-counter forms. While they are valuable drugs, “their use has been increasing rapidly,” says lead author Thomas Sehested, adding that people often take them for too long, or without a clear reason. Before taking them, he says, “patients need a conversation with their doctor to see if they really need these drugs.”