Common Heartburn Drugs May Increase COVID Risk
A recent study suggests taking proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) can increase the risk of developing COVID-19.
More than 60 million Americans have heartburn at least once per month, and 15 million experience symptoms every day. One of the most common medicines used to treat heartburn symptoms is proton pump inhibitors or PPIs. Proton pump inhibitors decrease the amount of gastric acid by blocking the acid-producing glands in the stomach lining.
Prilosec and Nexium Could Double or Quadruple COVID Risk
A recent study published in The American Journal of Gastroenterology discovered taking common heartburn medications like Prilosec and Nexium can increase the likelihood of contracting COVID-19. The study examined online surveys of more than 53,000 Americans with a history of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), many of whom took a PPI. More than six percent of survey respondents admitted to testing positive to COVID-19. The study found taking proton pump inhibitors once per day can double the risk of COVID-19, and taking PPIs twice per day can quadruple the risk.
Dr. Christopher Almario, an assistant professor of medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, says PPIs are useful, but heartburn sufferers must show caution. “…There’s a reason we have acid in the stomach—to digest food and to kill any bacteria we may ingest,” he said.
Previous studies already discovered links between reduced levels of stomach acid and gut problems like food poisoning, infections and traveler’s diarrhea. Dr. Almario says COVID-19 sheds in saliva, gets ingested in the stomach and can affect the gastrointestinal tract.
The study did not show a link between COVID risk and H2-blockers like Pepcid, Axid and Tagamet, possibly because H2-blockers do not block acid as actively as PPIs. In fact, a recent issue of Gut suggests H2-blockers can reduce symptoms of COVID. More research is necessary to confirm the survey results, but the findings of the study provide strong evidence to encourage caution when taking PPIs.
Talk to Your Gastroenterologist
What should you do if you are taking a PPI regularly? Call your gastroenterologist. Dr. Almario emphasizes patients should not cease taking PPIs completely. Your doctor will advise you on safe practices for taking PPIs. It is possible that an H2-blocker could be strong enough to alleviate your symptoms. Make an appointment with your GI doctor if you take PPIs like:
- Prevacid (lansoprazole)
- Prilosec (omeprazole)
- Aciphex (rabeprazole)
- Dexilant (dexlansoprazole)
- Nexium (esomeprazole)
- Protonix (pantoprazole)
Your doctor may have some lifestyle changes and natural treatments that can reduce heartburn and GERD symptoms, so you do not need to rely on medication.