A group of drugs commonly used to treat heartburn and indigestion can raise the risk of heart attacks, new research has indicated.
The study of more than 2.9 million patients found that those who took proton pump inhibitor (PPI) drugs, millions of which are prescribed in the UK every year, were between 16 and 21 per cent more likely to suffer a heart attack.
PPIs, which are only recommended for short-term use, are often prescribed by doctors but some can also be bought over-the-counter.
The US researchers behind the study said that over-the-counter purchases were leading to a lack of monitoring, of how often and for how long people were using the drug, increasing the risks. They called for regulators to “reconsider” whether they should be so easily available.
More than 50 million prescriptions for PPI drugs were made in England in 2013. They include a range of products, including omeprazole and lansoprazole.
Dr John Cooke, chair of cardiovascular sciences at the Houston Methodist Research Unit, and a senior author of the report, said that while their findings suggested only “a modest increase in what is already a low risk”, there were safer drugs for heartburn available.
“There are some patients that respond better to PPIs,” he said. “These drugs, however, were only approved for temporary use for four to six weeks. The problems come when they are used for longer periods of time…Regulatory agencies should reconsider the use of these agents as over-the-counter drugs.”
The study could only show an association between use of the drugs and heart attacks and is not conclusive proof that there is a causal link. It may be that people taking the drugs are already at higher risk.
A spokesperson for the UK drugs watchdog, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said: “The safety of medicines is kept under continuous review by the MHRA. As with all new data the findings from this study will be considered further and if any new advice is considered necessary, this will be communicated to healthcare professionals and patients accordingly.”
The British Heart Foundation said that those taking PPIs who had concerns should discuss the issue with their GP.
The new findings are published in the medical journal PLOS ONE.
What are PPIs?
Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) treat indigestion and heartburn by reducing acid production in the stomach.
They are taken as tablets and include many drugs, including rabeprazole, pantoprazole, esomeprazole and omeprazole.
Sales of the drugs worldwide are estimated to have a total value of £8.3bn.
While they are usually prescribed, some are available over-the-counter to people aged 18 and over.
In the new study, alternative heartburn drugs, known as H2 blockers, did not increase heart attack risk. However, some patients do not respond well to these treatments and require PPIs.Reuse content