Q: My dad has been taking an acid reflux medication for years, and he recently had a heart attack. I heard those meds can raise that risk. Do you think it caused his?
Debbie D., Arlington, Texas
A: Well, taking acid reflux drugs called “proton pump inhibitors” could have contributed, but other factors such as age, diet, physical activity, stress, sleep habits and tobacco use all work together to create a person’s risk for a heart attack, or myocardial infarction. For instance, if your dad ate red meat and smoked, taking something like omeprazole (Prilosec) to control gastroesophageal reflux disease wouldn’t top his list of cardiovascular risks.
But if Dad is healthy and doesn’t smoke PLUS regularly takes omeprazole for GERD, then, according to a recent study, taking that PPI is associated with a 16 percent increase in his risk for MI. Folks with previous heart problems double their risk. (Unfortunately, the data could be flawed if the reporting were skewed toward people who were sicker to begin with. The study didn’t provide that info.)
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PPIs may decrease levels of nitric oxide in the blood, negatively affecting the health of the cardiovascular system. The good news is that 16 percent increased cardio risk probably drops to normal after the drugs are stopped. The same study found that H2 blockers — such cimetidine (Tagamet) and famotidine (Pepcid) — carried no increased cardiovascular risk.
But before you stop taking a PPI, you should check with your doc. You also need to make a plan to improve your lifestyle choices (diet, physical activity, etc.) to lessen or eliminate your GERD symptoms and reduce your heart attack risk.
Say “no” to trans fats and most saturated fats, all added sugars and syrups, and any grain that isn’t 100 percent whole, plus eat five to nine servings of fruits and veggies daily. See “This Is Your Do-Over” for tips. Hope your dad gets back to 100 percent soon.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email your health and wellness questions to Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen at firstname.lastname@example.org.