Potential Link Between Heartburn Medication and Development of Childhood Asthma

Lauren Santye, Assistant Editor
Published Online: Monday, January 9th, 2017
Infants born to mothers who took medications for acid reflux during pregnancy may have a greater risk of developing asthma in childhood.

The investigators reviewed 8 prior studies––which included more than 1.3 million children––that examined health care registries and prescription databases, linking information about both mothers and children.

Heartburn is a common condition in pregnancy that is caused by stomach acid passing from the stomach back into the esophagus. H2-receptor antagonists and proton pump inhibitors can help block acid reflux, and is considered safe in pregnant women because it does not affect the baby’s development.

Scientists have hypothesized that the use of these medications may increase the risk of allergies in unborn babies through impacting on the immune system. However, studies examining this link have been inconclusive.

In a study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, investigators found that children born to mothers prescribed acid-blocking drugs during pregnancy were at least one-third more likely to see a physician for asthma symptoms.

According to the authors, the association could be caused by a separate, linked factor. However, this potential link is not conclusive and more research needs to be done.

“Our study reports an association between the onset of asthma in children and their mothers’ use of acid-suppressing medication during pregnancy,” said study investigator Aziz Sheikh, co-director of the Asthma UK Centre for Applied Research, University of Edinburgh. “It is important to stress that this association does not prove that the medicines caused asthma in these children and further research is needed to better understand this link.”

The investigators noted that advice for expectant mothers should not change based on the study findings.

“It is important to stress that this research is at a very early stage and expectant mums should continue to take any medication they need under the guidance of their doctor or nurse,” said investigator Dr Samantha Walker, director of Policy and Research at Asthma UK. “We don’t yet know if the heartburn medication itself is contributing to the development of asthma in children, or if there is [a] common factor we haven’t discovered yet that causes both heartburn in pregnant women and asthma in their children.

“The study points us towards something that needs further investigation which is why we need to see more research carried out into the causes of asthma, a condition that affects 5.4 million people in the UK alone.”

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