Proton Pump Inhibitors, Other Heartburn Drugs, Pose Pneumonia Risk

Heartburn drugs – especially <"">proton pump inhibitors – may increase the risk of pneumonia. Examples of proton pump inhibitors include Aciphex, <"">Nexium, <"">Prevacid, <"">Prilosec, <"">Protonix, and Zegerid.

According to a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, a review of 31 studies published between 1985 and 2009 found a significant association between proton pump inhibitors and pneumonia. The meta-analysis found that these drugs increased the chances of developing pneumonia by 27 percent. According to the study, 19.7 cases of pneumonia occur in every 1,000 hospital patients not receiving acid-suppressing drugs. That increases to 25 cases per 1,000 patients who are taking the drugs.

Another class of heartburn drugs, Histamine-2 receptor antagonists, which include drugs like Tagamet, Pepcid, Axid and Zantac, also put users at higher risks of pneumonia. People taking these drugs had a 22 percent increased chance of getting hospital-acquired pneumonia.

Heartburn drugs are among the most frequently-used medications. According to a report in The Globe and Mail, such drugs are given to 40 to 70 per cent of hospital patients. Bacterial pneumonia is a common hospital-acquired infection, and one of the leading causes of patient death.

“A considerable burden of morbidity and mortality of hospital-acquired pneumonia may be attributable to this type of therapy,” Chun-Sick Eom of the department of family medicine at the Seoul National University Hospital in South Korea, told The Globe and Mail.

All of these drugs suppress stomach acid, which protects the body from many types of microbes. While the drugs relieve gastrointestinal stress, they do leave users open to infections.

Last month, we reported that another study had found that taking proton pump inhibitors could increase the risk of contracting Clostridium difficile–associated diarrhea (CDAD) by as much as 80 percent. That study drew on data from 21 peer-reviewed published studies. The 7 cohort studies and 14 case-control studies included 133,054 individuals. Overall, there was a significant increase in the risk of CDAD in patients taking proton pump inhibitors (risk estimate, 1.80). The risk estimate in the case-control studies was 1.55 and in the cohort studies 2.07. The CDAD risk was significantly higher for patients taking proton pump inhibitors whether the types of studies were considered separately or as a whole.

Since their introduction in the 90s, proton pumps have ranked among the top selling drugs, with doctors writing 119 million prescriptions for them last year alone. The drugs are also available in over-the-counter versions.

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