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Popular heartburn drugs linked to greater C. diff risk

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Watch out for heartburn as you eat away over the holidays. People on popular prescription heartburn drugs – Prilosec, Prevacid and Nexium – and some over-the-counter versions seem more prone to getting a potentially dangerous diarrhea caused by the bug Clostridium difficile, new research shows. C. diff, as it’s known, can cause severe diarrhea and crampy intestinal inflammation called colitis.

Dr. Sandra Dial and colleagues at McGill University in Montreal examined data on more than 18,000 patients in the United Kingdom from 1994 to 2004. During that time, 1,672 cases of C. diff were diagnosed, and the numbers increased from less than 1 per 100,000 in 1994 to 22 per 100,000 last year. Patients with prescriptions for powerful acid-fighters called proton pump inhibitors, which include Prilosec and Prevacid, were almost three times more likely to be diagnosed with the bug than those not taking the drugs. Those on less potent prescription drugs called H2 receptor antagonists, which include Pepcid and Zantac, were two times more likely than nonusers to get C. diff infections. The widely used and heavily promoted drugs reduce levels of gastric acid that can keep C. diff germs at bay.

Dial’s study appears in theJournal of the American Medical Association. A co-author is a consultant for AstraZeneca PLC, which markets Prilosec and Nexium, and Altana Pharma, which makes and markets another prescription heartburn drug, Protonix, in Europe.