Acid reflux drugs linked to increased risk of severe headaches

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Man with a headache (photo: courtesy of Mental Health America)

Treatments for acid reflux may increase the risk of experiencing migraines, a new study shows.

 According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), Gastroesophageal reflux (GER) or acid reflux happens when your stomach contents come back up into your esophagus. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a more severe and long-lasting condition in which GER causes repeated symptoms or leads to complications over time.

In a new study, researchers compared the likelihood of experiencing migraines or headaches between people who took acid-reducing treatments and people who didn’t. Treatments included in the analysis were proton pump inhibitors such as omeprazole, histamine H2-receptor antagonists (H2 blockers), and antacid supplements. The treatments are commonly used for heartburn symptoms and by people with ulcers and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

The researchers analyzed survey responses from 1999 to 2004, collected by the CDC, that asked people whether they used acid suppression treatments and whether they experienced migraines or severe headaches in the past three months. The researchers explained they used those years of survey data because they were the only ones that included specific headache and migraine questions.

Using any of the studied types of acid reflux therapy was linked with increased odds of reporting migraines or severe headaches, compared to people who said they didn’t use acid reflux therapies. The odds varied based on the type used. Proton-pump inhibitor use corresponded to a 70 per cent increased risk. H2 blocker use corresponded to a 40 percent increased risk. Generic antacids corresponded to a 30 per cent increased risk.

People were not significantly more or less likely to experience migraines or severe headaches when compared to each other based on the type of therapy they used. “Given the wide usage of acid-reducing drugs and these potential implications with migraine, these results warrant further investigation”, study author and food scientist Margaret Slavin, PhD, of the University of Maryland in College Park, said.

Severe headaches or migraines were reported by 25 per cent who took proton pump inhibitors or H2 blockers and by 22 per cent who said they took antacid supplements, among the people in the study. About 20 per cent of people not taking acid reflux medicine reported migraines or severe headaches.

Slavin noted that drugs included in the study were only available by prescription at the time the survey was conducted, and lower-strength OTC counterparts were not part of the analysis. She also encouraged people to talk with their doctor before making changes to any current therapy regimens.

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