A recent data-mining study is causing significant controversy in the medical community, as some researchers claim that proton pump inhibitors can increase patients’ risk of heart attack.
Proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs, are commonly-prescribed drugs that are used to treat acid reflux disease, or GERD – also known as heartburn.
Doctors have considered their side-effects well known for years – but now many are questioning the safety of these popular drugs, which has been relatively undisputed up until now.
The study, which ended up covering over 16 million clinical documents on 2.9 million individuals, “found that gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) patients exposed to PPIs have a 1.16 fold increase association… with myocardial infarction (MI).”(1)
Millions At Risk
According to the Pharmaceutical Journal, “some 113 million PPI prescriptions are dispensed globally each year. About 21 million people in the United States used one or more prescription PPIs in 2009, making it the third highest seller in the country.”(2)
The Pharmaceutical Journal adds that this is the first time an increased risk of heart attack has been associated with PPIs, particularly in patients with no previous history of cardiovascular disease.
These massive numbers make the 1.16 fold figure a lot more significant than you might think. An increase in risk of roughly 16 to 20% may not seem like a lot, but when you factor in the huge numbers of people, it becomes a lot more troubling.
Doctors Advise Caution
However, many doctors are advising caution when it comes to interpreting the results of this study.
“You have to be cautious with observational data like this,” one doctor said for WebMD. “There could be other explanations.”(3)
Specifically, the study has been criticized for not taking into account conditions like obesity, or the possibility that some people presenting to doctors with heart disease-related chest pain were mistakenly treated for GERD instead.
However, there are concerns about the overuse of proton pump inhibitors that have troubled many healthcare providers for some time now – specifically, their ready availability and the possibility of overuse: “… many people take proton pump inhibitors for less-severe problems, such as occasional heartburn that crops up after eating certain foods. They could do well with diet changes, losing weight, or taking simple antacids such as Rolaids or Tums,” WebMD observes.
The Daily Mail adds that proton pump inhibitors are “only supposed to be used for two months, but many patients find they can’t live without the drugs.”(4)
“Although very effective, they should only be used for a maximum of two months and preferably between two and four weeks. But many patients quickly find they cannot live without them and ask for repeat prescriptions from their GP,” the Daily Mail adds.
If you’ve been taking proton pump inhibitors, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about whether or not you really need to be on them, especially for an extended period of time.