Researchers at the Danish Heart Foundation in Copenhagen analyzed the risk of stroke in 244,679 patients on Nexium, Prilosec, Prevacid, or Protonix — popular antacids in the Proton Pump Inhibitor (PPI) class.

During six years of follow-up, 9,489 patients had a first-time ischemic stroke. It is usually caused by a clot that blocks blood-flow to the brain.

No increased risk of stroke was seen in patients on stronger heartburn medications known as H2-blockers, such as Pepcid or Zantac.

However, the overall stroke risk increased by 21% when patients were taking a PPI. At the highest doses, Prevacid was associated with a 30% increased risk of stroke, and Protonix had a 94% increased risk.

At the lowest doses of the PPIs, there was only a slight increased risk of stroke or none at all.

Lead study author Dr. Thomas Sehested presented his findings at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana. He said:

At one time, PPIs were thought to be safe, without major side effects. This study further questions the cardiovascular safety of these drugs.”

PPIs are among the most widely-used and easily-available medications in the world. An estimated 15 million Americans take a PPI every day, spending around $14 billion on them annually.

They work by decreasing the amount of acid produced by the stomach. This can interfere with the digestion and absorption of nutrients from food, with wide-ranging side effects in the long run.

Long-term users of PPIs are mostly adults over 50 years old, who may face higher risks than younger users. Another recent study found a 44% higher risk of dementia in PPI users over 75 years old.

The FDA has also issued warnings about bone fractures, heart problems, kidney inflammation, chronic diarrhea, vitamin B12 deficiencies, and other side effects.

Source: “Popular heartburn medication may increase ischemic stroke risk” — American Heart Association (November 2016)

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