Drugs that effectively ease acid reflux may result in a life-threatening side effect — cardiovascular disease.
That’s the conclusion of a disturbing new report by researchers from Houston Methodist Hospital, Stanford University and Imperial College London.
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The researchers found the drugs — known as proton pump inhibitors or PPIs — can cause the constriction of blood vessels. And their regular use can lead to hypertension and a weakened heart. Common examples include Prilosec (omeprazole), Nexium (esomeprazole), and Prevacid (lansoprazole).
"The surprising effect that PPIs may impair vascular health needs further investigation," said Dr. John Cooke, the study's chief investigator.
"Our work is consistent with previous reports that PPIs may increase the risk of a second heart attack in people that have been hospitalized with an acute coronary syndrome.
“Patients taking PPIs may wish to speak to their doctors about switching to another drug to protect their stomachs, if they are at risk for a heart attack."
The most common PPI drugs are Prevacid and Prilosec, which have been used by about 1 in 14 Americans. They are among the pharmaceutical industry's biggest sellers.
Along with gastroesophageal reflux disease, they also treat Zollinger-Ellison syndrome, and Barrett's esophagus.
PPI drugs are activated by specialized cells in the stomach and stop the movement of protons into the intestine, lessening acid levels.
The researchers used samples of human cells and mouse models in reaching their conclusions.
"PPIs interfere with the ability of blood vessels to relax,” lead author Yohannes Ghebramariam said.
“[They] have this adverse effect by reducing the ability of human blood vessels to generate nitric oxide. Nitric oxide generated by the lining of the vessel is known to relax, and to protect, arteries and veins."
The report is the new issue of the medical journal Circulation, published by the American Heart Association.
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