This Popular Heartburn Medication Could Kill

If you're not careful... your battle against heartburn could result in a heart attack.

Heartburn is the burning sensation you feel in your chest when gastric acid splashes up and out of the stomach, inflaming your esophagus. It's a symptom of what folks call "acid reflux."

More than 60 million Americans experience heartburn at least once a month, according to the American College of Gastroenterology. And more than 20 million Americans take a prescription medication for heartburn.

But some of the most popular drugs might increase your risk of a heart attack.

A study last year in the medical journal PLOS ONE analyzed electronic medical records for 3 million Americans and found that taking a type of heartburn drug called a proton-pump inhibitor (PPI) was associated with a 20% higher risk of having a heart attack.

Popular PPIs include Prilosec, Prevacid, and Nexium (one of the most-sold medications in the U.S.).

More important, this higher risk appeared even in people younger than age 45 who were otherwise healthy.

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And this past Monday, Johns Hopkins University released a study linking PPIs with an increased risk of chronic kidney disease.

We need to remember that neither study determined a cause-and-effect relationship.

But right now, scientists believe PPIs shut down nitric-oxide production. Nitric oxide plays a key role in the widening of blood vessels to control blood flow. That makes us take these results seriously.

So if you're currently taking a PPI, talk to your doctor about lowering your dose.

You can also switch to an over-the-counter H2-blocker drug (these include Zantac, Tagamet, and Pepcid). H2 blockers do not have the same heart-attack risk.

Antacids – like Tums – are also a popular way to fight less frequent heartburn.

And if you only rarely experience heartburn, do what I do – carry a piece of sugar-free gum with you for when you start to feel heartburn coming on. Chewing gum causes your mouth to produce saliva, which can help keep the acid from rising. But don't chew gum with sugar... it will just make the heartburn worse.

You can also cut back on heartburn triggers like cigarettes, alcohol, and caffeinated drinks like soda and coffee. Spicy foods, including pepper, garlic, and raw onions, as well as citrus fruits like oranges and lemons, all cause heartburn flare-ups.

Be Careful of PPI Prescription in Hospitals

We've talked about how hospitals can kill you, and here's something else to watch out for...

Roughly one in every five patients receives a new PPI prescription at the hospital. Doctors prescribe them to control stomach bleeding in case of surgery, or to control heartburn from increased stress during a hospital stay.

But new research from the University of Michigan Medical School found that PPIs raise the risk of dying in the hospital...

When PPIs suppress acid production in the stomach – controlling heartburn and bleeding – they may also make it easier for potentially harmful bacteria or "superbugs" to thrive in your body.

Those bugs can be deadly...

For patients who aren't in an intensive care unit and don't have active upper gastrointestinal bleeding, the researchers concluded that the harms of prescribing PPIs outweigh the benefits, stating:

Around 90% of hospital inpatients who were first prescribed these drugs in the hospital have a higher risk of dying when they're taking them, compared with their risk if they hadn't gotten the prescription.

And for around 80% of patients who were already on these common drugs ... when they arrived at the hospital, staying on them also may lead to a small increase in the risk of dying.

Next time you have to go to the hospital, make sure to ask your doctor about the benefits and the harms of all your prescriptions. Make sure he has a clear reason for the drugs he's giving you... and that it's not just "routine" to issue you a PPI prescription.

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