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Study Links Heartburn Drugs and Stomach Infections

January 9, 2017 — Heartburn drugs like Nexium and Prilosec may raise the risk of stomach infections with bacteria that cause chronic diarrhea, according to a new study.

Dr. Thomas MacDonald and colleagues analyzed medical records for nearly 565,000 adults in Scotland, including 188,000 on heartburn drugs — either a Proton Pump Inhibitor (PPI) or H2-blocker (H2RA).

On average, patients on heartburn drugs were 3.7-times more likely to develop a stomach infection with Campylobacter bacteria, and 70% more likely to be infected by C. difficile.

C. diff infections are one of the most common hospital-acquired infections, and the problem is getting worse. In comparison, Campylobacter infections are usually due to food poisoning or eating under-cooked poultry.

The study was published on January 5, in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology by researchers at the University of Dundee in Scotland.

It backs up findings published last year in the medical journal Gut and Liver. Out of more than 1,000 patients in the study, 6.7% on PPI heartburn drugs were diagnosed with C. diff infections, vs. 1.8% of patients on H2-blockers.

Heartburn drugs suppress stomach acid production, which researchers suspect makes some people more vulnerable to stomach infections. The FDA has already warned that heartburn drugs may lead to C. difficile infections or chronic diarrhea.

Symptoms of the infection include watery diarrhea, abdominal pain, and fever. Patients may go on to develop more serious intestinal conditions, and they can also spread it to other patients in a hospital.

Healthy adults are not normally at risk — C. diff is usually a hospital-acquired infection in people who are already very sick, or taking a prolonged course of antibiotics. Experts mostly blame antibiotic overuse for the growing problem of C. diff infections, but heartburn drugs may also be playing a role.

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