Acid Reflux Drugs Linked to Increased Risk of Migraines

2 min read

April 25, 2024 – Treatments for acid reflux may increase the risk of experiencing migraines or severe headaches, a new study shows.

Acid reflux affects as many as 1 in 3 adults on a weekly basis and occurs when stomach acid flows up from the stomach into the esophagus, which is located just below the throat. Symptoms such as a burning sensation or upper abdominal or chest pain usually occur after a large, rich meal, or when someone lies down shortly after eating.

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 3 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% increased risk.
  • H2 blocker use corresponded to a 40% increased risk.
  • Generic antacids corresponded to a 30% 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.

The findings were published Thursday in the journal Neurology Clinical Practice.

“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 in a statement. “These drugs are often considered to be overprescribed, and new research has shown other risks tied to long-term use of proton pump inhibitors, such as an increased risk of dementia.”

Among the people in the study, severe headaches or migraines were reported by 25% who took proton pump inhibitors or H2 blockers and by 22% who said they took antacid supplements. About 20% 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.