Common Heartburn Pills Increase Risk of Stroke

The Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs) have recently been found to increase the risk of stroke in patients. These commonly used heartburn medications include Prilosec, Prevacid, Nexium, Protonix, and Aciphex. Some of these medications are available over the counter without a prescription. This makes this latest warning all the more important for healthcare consumers to be aware of.

The increased risk of stroke comes from a Danish study looking at nearly 245,000 patients over a six-year follow-up. Overall, there was a 21% increased risk of stroke. There were even higher rates in those taking higher doses of these medications. At the highest dose, Prevacid showed a 30% increased risk of stroke, while Protonix showed a 94% increased risk. There was no increased risk of stroke in another commonly used class of heartburn medications known as H2 blockers (Pepcid, Zantac, Tagamet).

This is just another one of the long list of side effects coming to surface for the PPIs. These medications are also known to potentially increase the risk of developing pneumonia, clostridium difficile infections (diarrhea), osteoporosis, magnesium deficiency, B12 deficiency, interstitial nephritis (kidney inflammation), and low white blood cell counts. These side effects are more likely to occur with long-term use of these medications.

While PPIs may improve the symptoms of heartburn, one should weigh the risk of these side effects before using them and talk to their doctor if necessary about this.

A much safer alternative to any heartburn medication is to adopt a whole foods, plant-based diet while making some key lifestyle changes as well. These approaches target the cause of the problem, whereas the medications used to treat this condition only target the symptoms.

To learn more about diet and lifestyle approaches to treat heartburn, and for success rates of the PPIs and H2 blockers, read my article Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) – Overview and Treatment Options.

All my best,

Dustin Rudolph, PharmD, BCPS