Sufferers of chronic heartburn, GERD and other acid reflux disorders rely on anti heartburn medication to give them relief from the painful, uncomfortable symptoms associated with their conditions. However, a new study has shown that while those drugs used to treat heartburn may help to relieve their main symptoms, they do pose an increased risk of patients developing pneumonia.
Chun-Sick Eom, MD, MPH, from Seoul National University Hospital in South Korea, conducted a study on patients using these drugs, referencing patient records from as far back as 1985.
In fact, one in every 200 patients being treated with these types of drugs, or 0.5%, developed pneumonia. Histamine 2 receptor antagonists, like Peptid, Tagamet and Zantac, were also found to cause an increased risk of pneumonia.
The link between drugs treat heartburn and pneumonia is not known, but Eom and his team speculate that by suppressing the acid in the stomach from traveling up through the esophagus, an environment that is conducive to bacteria growth is created. That bacteria then infects the lungs, causing pneumonia.
Of course, strong antacids are typically given to forty to seventy percent of patients who are hospitalized due to acid reflux conditions, and hospitals are a prime location for catching pneumonia, so the problem is significant. It is advised therefore that doctors are more cautious before prescribing antacids, and that they do so only as a last resort.
Since treatments for acid reflux and similar disorders are the second most popular class of drugs in the US, accounting for $26 billion in sales every year, there are plenty of people at risk, including children.
It’s not clear just yet how these findings will be used to create better treatments, that protect patients against pneumonia, but it is good to know that if you’re receiving ulcer or GERD treatment, or on prescription antacids for any other reason, you need to watch out for pneumonia as a side effect.