Recent study shows a startling finding that drugs commonly used to treat heartburn could actually shoot up the likelihood of having pneumonia. This was result of a Korean research conducted after evaluating the 31 studies conducted from 1985-2009.As uttered by Dr. Sang Min Park of the department of family medicine at Seoul National University Hospital in Korea, there must be no recklessness in the use of heartburn drugs such as proton pump inhibitors and histamine-2 receptor antagonists, be it high-dose or long duration, since it may be linked with risk of pneumonia.

These popular heartburn drugs have varying mechanisms of action in treating heartburn. The proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) act on the stomach by reducing its acid production, thus treating not only heartburn but also Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease(GERD) and gastric ulcers. Examples of PPIs incude omeprazole (Prilosec), lansoprazole (Prevacid) and esomeprazole (Nexium).

On the other hand, Histamine-2 receptor antagonists or H2 blockers include cimetidine (Tagamet), famotidine (Pepcid), nizatidine (Axid) and ranitidine (Zantac). A different mechanism is utilized by this class of drug.
Further studies, meanwhile, have linked PPIs to a higher risk of fractures and an infection with a bacterium called Clostridium difficile. And while a number of previous studies have linked heartburn drugs to a higher risk of pneumonia, the research results were inconclusive, according to the study’s authors.

Gastroenterologists convey their concern on the various issues that have cropped up regarding the side effects of these drugs, since it has been deemed safe to use for a number of years without having second thought on the possible consequences. This was relayed by Dr. Michael Brown, a gastroenterologist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

In line with the view of hospital-acquired pneumonia, the authors pointed out that acid-suppressing drugs may have caused it since hospital patients are often given these drugs, most of which even up 40 to 70 percent of the hospitalized patients.

The reason of such occurrence is due to the fact that patients in the intensive care units usually have decreased blood flow to the stomach that can possibly lead to ulcers and bleeding. This could be a life-threatening condition which PPIs can prevent, Brown said.What worries the author at a great length is that such drugs are handed out to a very large numbers of individuals without utmost precaution. He even added that although the study revealed only a moderate increase in pneumonia, the numbers would be very significant if it were staged in a bigger scale, with very large numbers of people who use these drugs, it's very significant.

The link of heartburn drugs to pneumonia may be answered with the fact that since the drugs curb the production of stomach acids, it likewise results in the increase of pathogens that could travel up to the lungs.

The most plausible reason why suppressing acid in the stomach might raise the risk of pneumonia, Brown said, is that stomach acid acts as a barrier helping to control harmful bacteria and pathogens.

Not enough stomach acid to do the job may allow pathogens to flourish and end up in the lungs. This in turn would lead to infection and pneumonia.

It would be important to note though that not taking PPIs though may also lead to a raise in the risk of bronchitis and sinusitis. As such, taking the drug with utmost precaution would be the key for these conditions to be prevented.