A novel data-mining project reveals evidence that a common group of heartburn medications taken by millions of people is associated with a greater risk of heart attacks, Stanford University researchers reported Wednesday.
After combing through 16 million electronic records of 2.9 million patients in two separate databases, the researchers found that people who take the medication to suppress the release of stomach acid are 16 percent to 21 percent more likely to suffer myocardial infarction, commonly known as heart attack.
Because of its design, the study could not show cause and effect, but the researchers did claim that if their technology had been available, “such pharmacovigilance algorithms could have flagged this risk as early as the year 2000.”
The link between the drugs, known as proton pump inhibitors, and heart attacks is strong enough that “we do think patients should think about their risks and benefits and should discuss their risk with their doctors,” said Nicholas J. Leeper, an assistant professor of cardiovascular medicine and vascular surgery at Stanford, and one of the authors of the study. The danger extends to people outside high-risk groups, such as the elderly.
Leeper said the Food and Drug Administration “should be aware of these findings,” but agreed that only a large, prospective clinical study — the gold standard of medical research — could establish whether the drugs are actually causing more heart attacks.