Don’t stress over study that links pregnancy antacid use to kids’ asthma

Little girl with asthma inhaler

A widely publicised study has linked pregnant mums’ use of antacids to an increased rate of asthma in their children, but heartburn suffering women should not throw their medication away.

“A third more likely”

As part of this study, researchers from Edinburgh and Finland examined the health records of more than 1.3 million children, reviewing eight previous studies, healthcare registries and prescription databases.

What they discovered was that kids whose mums took antacids during pregnancy were at least a third more likely to have presented to a doctor with asthma symptoms.

They’re not really sure what this link means, though. (That hasn’t stopped the media promoting the patchy antacid-asthma link with click-bait headlines and freaking mums out, though!)

More research, please

“Further research is needed to better understand this link,” study co-author Aziz Sheikh co-director of the University of Edinburgh’s Asthma UK Centre for Applied Research admits.

Other experts in the field think there’s more at play here than antacid use, however.

While the pregnancy antacid-asthma link has been widely publicised online over the last week, they say that pregnant women do not need to worry about antacid use for now and encouraged broader, deeper research into the connection.

“The majority of studies [examined] did not control for obesity in pregnancy – a third factor which is linked both to worse heartburn (and a need to take antacids) and to risk of asthma in the offspring,” the Queen Mary University of London Professor Seif Shaheen explained.

Maybe heartburn is the clue?

The tendency to experience heartburn may also provide clues to increased risk of asthma, rather than the antacids used to treat it.

“It may be that the heartburn itself may be the most important association rather than the drugs used to treat it,” the University of Bristol’s Professor Jean Golding said.

“In order to test this, the appropriate comparison should be with offspring of women who have heartburn but do not use medication to treat the condition,” Professor Golding suggested.

Antacids are okay!

In short, while these headlines about poor pregnant mums possibly causing their children’s childhood asthma due to antacid use are alarming, they’re not at all conclusive.

Much, much more research needs to be done into this tip-of-the-iceberg connection.

“Advice to pregnant women does not need to change on the back of these latest data, which should be interpreted with caution. For now we should assume that the link is not causal and pregnant women should be reassured,” Professor Shaheen said.

If you’re pregnant and struggling with heartburn, and are concerned about taking antacids, check in with your doctor for reassurance and some suggestions on minimising this uncomfortable condition.

More information: Acid-suppressive medications during pregnancy and risk of asthma and allergy in the offspring: protocol for a systematic review



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