What to do about the heartburn medication recall

By now, you've probably heard about the recall of a popular heartburn medication. Some drugs that contain ranitidine (best known as Zantac) have been found by the FDA to have unacceptable amounts of N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), a possible cancer-causing chemical (which also triggered recalls of certain lots of the blood pressure drugs called angiotensin-receptor blockers). While the FDA investigates ranitidine, you're advised to talk to your doctor about whether to keep taking it. One alternative: switching to a similar drug, such as over-the-counter famotidine (Pepcid) or cimetidine (Tagamet). They're all in a class of medications known as H2 blockers, which block a chemical that signals the stomach to produce acid. "They're fairly interchangeable, working equally well for most people," says Dr. Kyle Staller, a gastroenterologist with Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.

Stronger heartburn medications include a class of drugs called proton-pump inhibitors, or PPIs, such as over-the-counter lansoprazole (Prevacid) or omeprazole (Prilosec). Long-term use of PPIs has been linked to reduced levels of vitamin B12, magnesium, and calcium, as well as an increased risk for hip fractures, pneumonia, and other life-threatening conditions. But Dr. Staller says the data supporting those risks aren't conclusive, and there's no evidence of risks from long-term use of H2 blockers.

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