Study Raises Concerns about Safety of Heartburn Drugs

Dangerous drug lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm highlight a recent article published by Forbes concerning the safety of drugs meant to treat heart burn, acid reflux, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). A recent study found that these drugs may increase the risk of heart disease and heart attack.

The study, headed by John P. Cooke, a clinical professor and chair of the department of cardiovascular sciences at Houston Methodist Hospital, found that these drugs may cause blood vessels to constrict, thereby reducing blood flow. Heartburn drugs, particularly proton pump inhibitors, are among the most popular classes of pharmaceuticals in the United States, sold under brand names such as Prilosec, Prevacid, and Nexium.

The research team studied human and mouse tissue cultures and their reactions to proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). Scientists found the drugs led to a 25% increase in one chemical messenger known as ADMA (asymmetric dimethylarginine). An increase in ADMA is widely considered a risk factor for adverse cardiovascular events.

This is because ADMA suppresses blood vessels’ ability to produce nitric oxide, which is a signaling molecule in the cardiovascular system and protects the walls of arteries. Nitric oxide is so imperative to cardiovascular health, in fact, that the team responsible for its discovery was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1998.

The most commonly prescribed PPIs, sold both as brand names and generics, in addition to the three mentioned above, include Protonix, Zegerid, and Dexilant (generics lansopraole, omeprazole, pantoprazole, esomeprazole, and dexlansoprazole). These drugs are the second-largest class of drugs sold in the country, with total sales exceeding $13.5 billion. AstraZeneca enjoyed profits of $6.3 billion from Nexium alone in 2009.

In April 2011, the FDA warned that long-term (over one year) use of a PPI could cause lower-than-average levels of magnesium, and even increase the likelihood of suffering arrhythmias, seizures, and muscle spasms. One year earlier, the agency warned PPIs could also increase the risk for fractures. The relation to heart disease, however, is still ongoing.

The latest study used several different model systems – including human blood vessels – to examine the effect PPIs had on each situation. In mouse tissue, PPIs reduced the ability of their blood vessels to relax by an average of 30%. The results were mirrored in human vessels, which is significant because blood vessels require the ability contract and open in order to regulate blood flow in and out of the heart.

Researchers are now conducting a much larger-scale study to determine the actual risk of PPIs on live human heart health. Their results would thus extend to the entire population of patients taking PPIs, potentially changing how and when these medications are prescribed.

For now, Dr. Cooke suggests those regularly taking PPIs to consult their doctors about the potential cardiovascular risks. If a patient has a family history of GERD, esophageal cancer, or Barrett’s esophagus, it is most likely recommended they continue PPI treatment. If a patient has a family history of heart disease, however, or exhibits any risk factors for cardiovascular events, they may want to consider another form of treatment.

Drugs such as Zantac and Tagamet are two alternatives to PPIs, though there is an array of alternative treatments to control symptoms of acid reflux or heart burn. Other studies have identified several other risks associated with PPIs, such as higher risks of pneumonia and infection with Clostridium difficile, a dangerous bacteria often affecting the elderly.

Prilosec and Prevacid lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm have decades of experience advocating on behalf of those injured by exceedingly dangerous pharmaceuticals. If you or a loved one was seriously injured by a PPI, or any other dangerous or recalled pharmaceutical, you have important legal rights, and may be entitled to significant compensation for your suffering.

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