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Heart Problems Linked to Acid-Reflux Drugs, Prilosec, Nexium

July 12, 2013 — The journal Circulation has published a study linking popular acid-reflux drugs to a potential risk of heart attacks and cardiovascular diseases.

Researchers found that drugs in the proton pump inhibitor (PPI) class can make chemical changes that cause blood vessels to constrict, which may increase blood pressure and lead to heart problems. Drugs in the PPI class include Nexium, Prilosec, Prevacid, Dexilant, and many generics.

The researchers studied mice and human tissue and found that subjects treated with PPIs had 25% more of a chemical called ADMA (asymmetric dimethylarginine). ADMA prevents blood vessels from creating nitric oxide (NO). Normally, NO is produced by the lining of blood vessels, where it helps relax smooth muscles. This lowers blood-pressure, prevents fatty deposits from sticking to the blood vessel walls, and also prevents arteries from narrowing. Researchers found that subjects treated with PPIs had 30% less relaxation of their blood vessels.

The FDA has issued several warnings about the link between PPIs and heart problems. In 2007, after reviewing two studies, they concluded that long-term use of Prilosec and Nexium was “not likely to be associated with an increased risk of heart problems.” In March 2011, the agency issued a Drug Safety Communication to warn that long-term use of PPIs could cause low magnesium levels, irregular heartbeat, cardiac arrhythmia, seizures, and muscle spasms.

Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs) are used to reduce the production of acid in the stomach. Millions of people use PPIs to treat acid-reflux, heartburn, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). The link between PPIs and heart problems adds to growing concern about the long-term use of the drugs. They have been linked to an increased risk of infections, bone fractures, and pneumonia.

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