Heartburn medication to treat acid reflux during pregnancy may be linked with the development of asthma in newborns, but it is not yet clear whether this association is direct or caused by a third factor yet to be found, according to results of a new study. Researchers say that pregnant women should not avoid heartburn medication, but more studies are necessary to determine if these medications will affect their children’s health.
The study, “Acid-Suppressive Medications During Pregnancy And Risk Of Asthma And Allergy In Children: A Systematic Review And Meta-Analysis,” was published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
Heartburn occurs when the acids from the stomach go up into the esophagus, leaving a sensation of burning in the throat. This condition is very common among pregnant women due to hormonal changes and the stomach being pressed by the growing baby bump.
Doctors usually prescribe pregnant women acid-suppressive medications, including H2-receptor antagonists (H2RA) and proton pump inhibitors (PPI), to decrease heartburn symptoms. These drugs are considered to be safe as they do not affect the development of the baby.
However, some concerns have been raised as to whether these medications can increase the risk of allergies in unborn babies. Some studies have suggested that the drugs alter the immune system, but studies investigating this possible link have provided inconclusive results.
In the new review, researchers analyzed eight studies with medical records for 1.3 million children and their mothers. The analysis showed that children whose mothers had taken heartburn medication while pregnant were at least one-third more likely to have developed asthma during childhood.
However, researchers noted that, although evidence points to a link between asthma and heartburn medication, it is not clear whether they are directly associated. It may be that this link is caused by a different, still-unidentified factor.
“Our study reports an association between the onset of asthma in children and their mothers’ use of acid-suppressing medication during pregnancy,” said Aziz Sheikh, MD, one of the authors of the study, in a press release. “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.”
“ 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,” added Samantha Walker, director of Policy and Research, Asthma UK.