Prenatal Use of Heartburn Drugs Linked to Asthma in Babies
A new analysis, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, compiled data from 8 previous studies that investigated a total of 1.6 million patients and found that women who were prescribed heartburn drugs during pregnancy were more likely to have children who went to a doctor for symptoms associated with asthma. The study does not provide evidence for why the association may exist and does not suggest a causal relationship between the heartburn drugs and childhood asthma.
It is common to experience heartburn while pregnant, especially later on in pregnancy during the second and third trimesters. The condition occurs when acid from the stomach leaks into the esophagus. The reason it occurs more frequently during pregnancy is not completely understood, but it is generally thought that the growing womb may be the culprit because by pushing on the stomach, it could increase pressure and lead to acid leakage. It has also been suggested that the hormone changes that accompany pregnancy could contribute to the increased frequency of heartburn.
Several drugs for heartburn have been deemed safe during pregnancy because they have not been found to interfere with the development of the fetus. Drugs for heartburn tend to fall into two categories – H2 blockers and proton pump inhibitors. H2 blockers are also known as histamine H2-receptor antagonists and include Pepcid and Tagamet. These medicines work by blocking the histamine receptors in the stomach’s acid-producing cells. With these receptors blocked, the cells do not receive the signal to produce acid, and acid secretion is thereby minimized. Proton pump inhibitors, like Prilosec or Nexium, also reduce the amount of acid secreted by the stomach, but unlike H2 blockers, they achieve this result by shutting down the proton pumps in the stomach.
The recent analysis found that the children of those who were prescribed heartburn medications during pregnancy were 30% more likely to see a doctor for asthma concerns. What this means for the link between heartburn drugs and asthma is unclear. It is tempting to jump to the conclusion that pregnant women should not take heartburn medications because the medications increase risk to the fetus. However, it is important to keep in mind that this study does not establish a causal link. Previous research has shown that people who suffer from asthma often also suffer from heartburn, and it is possible that something other than medications causes both asthma in the child and heartburn in the mother. Until further research helps to clarify the reasons for the findings of the recent analysis, little can be concluded about heartburn medications in pregnant women other than that they do not seem to directly impact fetal development.