Heartburn drugs known as proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs, have been on the market for more than a quarter century. More than 15 million people use either prescription versions such as Protonix or over-the-counter ones like Prilosec and Nexium. The drugs have been plagued with possible side effects including C.diff infections, heart attacks, pancreatitis, and compromised liver or kidney function. But a new study has found that people who use PPIs may be at greater risk of developing COVID-19.

The study, led by Cedars-Sinai researchers and published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, consisted of an online survey involving more than 86,000 people. More than 53,000 of them reported suffering heartburn or other gastrointestinal symptoms and responded to questions about the type of medication they used. Of those participants, more than 3,300 tested positive for COVID-19. Upon closer evaluation of the data, researchers found that participants who said they used PPIs were two to four times more likely to test positive for the novel coronavirus. Furthermore, people who took PPI medication twice a day were more likely to test positive for COVID-19 compared to people who took PPIs only once a day.

Researchers said the results weren’t that surprising considering people taking PPIs are at greater risk of developing some infections, such as C.diff. The reason? PPIs reduce the acid in the stomach, and stomach acid is one of the body’s mechanisms of fighting off potential disease-causing bacteria and viruses. However, what did surprise researchers was “just how large the effect seemed to be,” lead researcher Dr. Brennan Spiegel told Time. “We found a biological gradient where the stronger the medicine, the higher the dose, the higher the effect for COVID-19.”

People taking PPIs shouldn’t worry excessively about the link as the absolute risk is considered small, Dr. Spiegel said.

Spiegel’s study also looked into whether other types of heartburn drugs increased the risk of COVID-19, a class of heartburn drugs called H2 blockers, such as Zantac. He didn’t see the same increased risk of COVID-19 among those users. But, Zantac is no longer an option for heartburn sufferers since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in April, pulled the drug off the market because the medication was found to contain elevated levels of a likely carcinogen.

Beasley Allen attorneys Frank Woodson and Lisa Courson are actively investigating potential claims involving regular Zantac/ranitidine use that may have led to cancer of the stomach, colon, intestines, kidneys, or pancreas. If you or a loved one may have been affected, please contact us.

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