Researchers say the use of some heartburn medication during pregnancy could increase the chances of a child having asthma when born.
Heartburn occurs when stomach acid leaks into the oesophagus – the tube that connects the stomach to the throat.
A study carried out by a research team led by the University of Edinburgh and the University of Tampere in Finland reviewed 8 previous studies involving more than 1.3 million children.
They found that children born to mothers who had been prescribed acid-blocking medicines during pregnancy were at least one-third more likely to have visited a doctor for symptoms of asthma than those whose mothers had not taken these drugs.
Heartburn is common during pregnancy, particularly during the second and third trimesters. It may occur because of changing hormone levels or by the expanding womb pressing on the stomach.
Women who experience heartburn may be offered antacids to neutralise stomach acid, and these are sometimes combined with alginates that form a foam barrier between the stomach acid and the oesophagus to dampen down any reflux.
The research suggested that these acid-blocking medicines may increase the risk of allergies in the unborn baby because they can impact on the immune system.
Samantha Walker, a doctor and the director of policy and research at Asthma UK, said: “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.
“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.”
The study is published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
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