Taking Heartburn Drugs During Pregnancy Could Cause Childhood Asthma

Children born to mothers who took heartburn medication were more likely to visit the physician for asthma symptoms.

A recent study found that taking heartburn medication during pregnancy may lead to asthma during childhood.

However, the investigators warn that their findings could have been influenced by multiple other factors, and not necessarily directly caused by acid reflux medication. Additional studies are needed to determine whether these medications cause childhood asthma, according to the study, which was published by the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Heartburn is caused by stomach acid reaching the esophagus, and is common among pregnant women due to changes in hormones and pressure on the stomach from a growing uterus.

H2-receptor antagonists and proton pump inhibitors are commonly prescribed to treat acid reflux, and are generally considered safe in pregnant patients since they do not inhibit fetal development, according to the study.

The investigators conducted a review of 8 studies that included more than 1.3 million children. Healthcare registries and prescription databases were explored to supply additional information about the mother and child.

The investigators discovered that children born to mothers who were prescribed heartburn drugs during pregnancy were at least one-third more likely to have seen a physician about asthma-like symptoms, such as cough, wheezing, chest tightness, or shortness of breath, according to the study.

If untreated, childhood asthma can cause a decrease in stamina and physical activity, which may have additional health effects.

"Our study reports an association between the onset of asthma in children and their mothers' use of acid-suppressing medication during pregnancy,” said researcher Aziz Sheikh, MD. “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 researchers stress that pregnant women do not alter their medication regimens without consulting their physicians since these results are preliminary. However, they said that further studies are needed to confirm these 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 Samantha Walker, PhD, 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 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.”