The journey is enjoyable, but the consequence can be hell. Heartburn after a midnight pizza run. You’re both thanking the pizza joint for being open that late and cursing your poor decision-making hours later.

Millions of people turn to pills to combat the daily heartburn cycle. Diet change? Nah, slide me another plate of spicy goodness with a Prilosec.

And there’s the problem, according to a study by Stanford researchers. The conclusion is startling. A twenty percent increase in the risk of heart attacks for those who take the drugs on a regular basis.

Prilosec, also known as omeprazole, is in a class of drugs called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). The study focused on data mining the electronic health records of three million people.

Before the study, patients on Plavix (a popular blood thinner) were told to avoid the class of heartburn medications. It was due to a heightened risk of heart attacks. The study shows the jump in risk may extend to the general population.

There is a caveat. Researchers found a correlation, not causation. Additional research is required to prove if there is any causation from proton pump inhibitors. Lead author, Nigam Shah, a professor of biomedical informatics points this out in a press release.

“The association we found with PPI use and increased chances of a subsequent heart attack doesn’t in and of itself prove causation.”

No risk was noted with H2 blockers, another popular drug class to treat heartburns. The most recognizable example is Zantac.

Should you be concerned? Maybe. I know. Every health study is a maybe.

Proton pump inhibitors, such as Prilosec are sold over-the-counter now. Walk into any store that has a health aisle. Instantly the giant marketing for Prilosec and its generic appear.

heartburn and heart attacks

While the study does not show causation, the class of drugs are impulse buys now. Which one do you pick? The cheap container of tums, or do you go with the heavily marketed Prilosec?

It comes down to why you’re taking PPIs. Is there a sound reason and you’ve discussed it with your doctor? Do you have a low risk of heart problems? The decision is at the individual level.

A 20 percent jump in heart attack risk sounds scary but add context. If you’re already at a low risk for heart attacks, the absolute risk increase is minor. High-risk patients? Become educated on what you’re buying and make sure nothing that you get over-the-counter has adverse reactions.

Now, researchers have to drill down the variables and control for a host of issues. Data mining is great at finding potential issues. It gives researchers areas to focus on. In the case of PPIs, that would be controlling for diabetes, age, etc.

Personal responsibility plays a role here. If you are the type that gets heartburn from certain foods, it’s your body saying quit eating these foods. Don’t paper over the issue with pills. Medications play their role, but we have a role too.


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