Now researchers at the Danish Heart Foundation in Denmark have added ischaemic stroke—the most common type—to the lethal roll call. It happens when clots block blood flowing to and from the brain.
The risk increased by up to 94 per cent for one PPI, Protonix (pantoprazole), and by 30 per cent for Prevacid (lansoprazole) if people were taking them at the highest dose, although the average risk was 21 per cent.
The risk disappeared when another type of heart burn medication was tested. The H2 blockers, which include Pepcid (famotidine) and Zantac (ranitidine) didn't increase stroke risk at all, although the researchers said this didn't necessarily mean the drugs were any safer.
The risk was calculated by looking at the health profiles of 244,679 Danish people with an average age of 57, who suffered from stomach pains and indigestion. In the six years of the trial, 9,489 of the participants suffered a stroke for the first time, and the researchers checked to see if they were taking one of four PPIs, Prilosec (omeprazole), Protonix, Prevacid and Nexium (esomeprazole).
The risk increased with dose; at the lowest dose, there seemed to be no, or only little, increased risk of a stroke, the researchers found.
"At one time, PPIs were thought to be safe, without major side effects. This study further questions the cardiovascular safety of these drugs," said lead researcher Thomas Sehested.
Most PPIs are available over-the-counter, and without a prescription, to treat indigestion, and especially heartburn and stomach acid. Many people are taking them as part of their daily routine, and this is especially worrying as their true risks are becoming better understood, the researchers say.