Heartburn Pills and Bacterial Infections: The Truth You Must know

Latest scientific research has proven that those taking a popular heartburn pills known as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), are at the risk of having intestinal infections

This is according to a Scottish research report which says people who take the well-known heartburn pills may be more likely to develop intestinal infections than people who don’t take these medications, a Scottish study suggests.

The researchers examined data of about 188,000 people taking PPIs and about 377,000 similar individuals who don’t and came to a conclusion that compared to those who didn’t use the PPIs, those who did were at higher risk for a severe form of diarrhea caused by the Clostridium difficile bacteria.

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The PPIs work by stopping cells in the stomach lining from producing too much of the acid that can cause ulcers and reflux symptoms such as heartburn.

The users odds of this infection were 1.4 times higher when they were hospitalized and 1.7 times higher when they weren’t in the hospital.

Users  also had a 4.5 times greater risk of getting Campylobacter infections – a common form of food poisoning, – if they were hospitalized and a 3.7 times higher risk when they weren’t hospitalized.

“Reducing stomach acid, which acts as a barrier to infection, increases the chance of getting a GI infection,” said senior study author Dr. Thomas MacDonald, a pharmacology researcher at the University of Dundee in Scotland.

“The main risk of PPIs are gastrointestinal infections,” he added via email.

PPIs are well known heartburn pills used for handling heartburn diseases and  there are records of millions of people worldwide using the pills which are available without a prescription in the western world like Europe and the U.S.

This means a slight increase in the odds of bacterial infections can have huge impact on a large number of patients.

“The main problem with PPI use is their general overuse,” Marlicz said by email. “These drugs are very potent and safe when used according to indication” said Dr. Claire Steves, a researcher at King’s College London who wasn’t involved in the study.

“Some patients will gain clear benefits from PPIs as they have stomach problems, such as ulcers which will heal better with less acid,

“However other patients may take these as preventatives, or for mild symptoms,” Steves added by email.

“This study would prompt us to reassess the risk and benefit for each individual, and in some cases alternatives – such as changing diet or lifestyle – may be better options.” he added.

MacDonald and colleagues analyzed data on stool samples collected from patients in Scotland between 1999 and 2013. The group had a total of  22,705 positive test results for bacterial infections which include 15,273 people with C. difficile and 6,590 cases of Campylobacter, the authors reported in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology.

Researchers also tested for Salmonella, Shigella and Escherichia coli, or E. coli, but didn’t find an association between PPIs and these infections.

The research, however, recorded some limitations one of which is that it only included data on people who took the heartburn pills with a prescription, even though these drugs have been available in Scotland since 2004 without a prescription, the authors note.

Researchers also lacked data on other factors that can influence the risk of bacterial infections such as obesity, smoking and alcohol use.

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Previous research on PPIs and infections has produced mixed results, with some studies either failing to establish a connection or suggesting an association, according to Dr. Wojciech Marlicz, a gastroenterology researcher at Pomeranian Medical University in Poland who wasn’t involved in the study.