Study Links Popular Heartburn Drugs to Increased Risk of Pneumonia

According to the findings of a new study, medications commonly used to treat and prevent heartburn, like Zantac, Prilosec and Nexium, may increase the risk of pneumonia among some patients. The purpose of the study, which was published earlier this month in the British Medical Journal, was to examine the safety and efficacy of gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding prophylaxis as a preventative measure in adult critically ill patients. And while the team of researchers concluded that proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and histamine-2 receptor antagonists (H2 blockers) can reduce the risk of GI bleeds in this group of patients, they also found that the drugs increased the risk of pneumonia. Otherwise, the researchers concluded that the medications had no important effect on mortality or other in-hospital morbidity outcomes, such as length of hospital stay, Clostridium difficile infection or duration of mechanical ventilation.

Popular Heartburn Drugs

Heartburn drugs like Zantac (ranitidine), Nexium (esomeprazole), Prevacid (lansoprazole) and Prilosec (omeprazole) are among the most popular drugs on the market. In fact, in 1988, Zantac became the world’s best-selling drug and one of the first-ever drugs to top $1 billion in sales. These popular heartburn medications are available both over the counter and in higher-strength prescription form and are aggressively marketed as effective treatments for easing symptoms associated with heartburn, sour stomach, acid indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Although PPIs (Prilosec, Prevacid, Nexium) and H2 blockers (Zantac, Pepcid) have different mechanisms of action – PPIs bind to proton pumps in the stomach, while H2 blockers target a substance called histamine – they have a common purpose – to neutralize stomach acid and relieve the symptoms of heartburn. Research has also found that certain antacid treatments may offer an additional benefit in the form of a reduced risk for gastrointestinal bleeds, which is what the researchers sought to investigate in the BMJ study.

Increased Risk of Pneumonia

In this new BMJ study, researchers from Canada, China and Europe analyzed data from 72 clinical trials involving 12,660 patients and compared the safety and efficacy of GI bleeding prophylaxis with PPIs like Prilosec and Nexium, H2 blockers like Zantac and Tagamet, and sucralfate, an antacid sold under the brand name Carafate in the United States. The researchers compared the effect of treatment with these medications on the risk of GI bleeds in patients with a high risk of bleeding to the effect of treatment with a placebo, and found that PPIs and H2 blockers reduced the risk of bleeding events by about half for the highest risk patients. However, despite this potential treatment benefit, the researchers also found that the risk of pneumonia was 39% higher with the PPI drugs and 26% higher with H2 blocker drugs.

Heartburn Drug Recalls

This BMJ study comes amid increasing concerns about the safety of some of the most widely used heartburn medications and their link to potentially life-threatening side effects, like cancer. Since September 2019, a number of recalls have been issued for prescription, generic and over-the-counter versions of the H2 blocker Zantac, since it was discovered that the drug’s active ingredient can convert to the carcinogen N-Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) in the human body. In light of this potential cancer risk, people all over the country who took Zantac for the treatment and prevention of heartburn, acid indigestion and other conditions caused by too much acid in the stomach are pursuing legal claims against the manufacturer, blaming the drug for their bladder cancer, stomach cancer, esophageal cancer, intestinal cancer and other cancers diagnosed in recent years.

Drug Injury Lawsuits

The makers of popular PPI medications like Nexium, Prilosec and Prevacid have also faced increased scrutiny recently, due to concerns that long-term use of the drugs may increase the risk of acute kidney injury, chronic kidney disease and other severe kidney-related side effects in users. A growing number of lawsuits have been filed against the makers of Nexium, Prilosec, Prevacid and other PPI drugs, alleging that the manufacturing companies failed to provide patients and the medical community with adequate warnings about the potential health risks associated with their best-selling medications. If you believe you have been adversely affected by side effects of a heartburn drug like Zantac, Nexium or Prilosec, speak with an experienced product liability lawyer as soon as possible. You may have grounds to file a claim against the drug manufacturing company for damages.