updated 8/31/2009 7:02:49 PM ET 2009-08-31T23:02:49

Heart patients taking a commonly prescribed cocktail of blood thinners and heartburn drugs may not be at increased risk of heart attacks or other problems, a new study says.

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That contradicts research published last year that suggested a dangerous interaction between the two types of drugs was linked to heart attacks, strokes and other ailments. That led most doctors to stop routinely prescribing heartburn drugs in combination with blood thinners.

Heart patients who get stents to prop open clogged arteries take blood thinners to prevent potentially deadly clots. Since blood thinners like Plavix can cause stomach problems including heartburn and ulcers, doctors also used to regularly give patients heartburn drugs.

After the study was presented last year at a meeting of the American Heart Association, regulatory agencies including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency issued safety warnings, saying the heartburn drugs should only be used with blood thinners when absolutely necessary.

Research presented Tuesday at the European Society of Cardiology in Barcelona suggests those concerns may have been exaggerated. In a new analysis of previous studies, experts said heart patients who took blood thinners and heartburn drugs were not at higher risk of problems like strokes or heart attacks. The study was also published online in the medical journal, Lancet.

"This makes us much less worried," said Ralph Brindis, president of the American College of Cardiology, who said many cardiologists stopped automatically prescribing heartburn drugs for heart patients to avoid stomach ulcers while taking blood thinners. He was not connected to the research.

"It turns out the effect is relatively modest," he said of the interaction between blood thinners and heartburn drugs. Brindis said patients should be reassured they could safely take blood thinners and heartburn drugs together.

In the new analysis, researchers observed nearly 14,000 patients on blood thinners and heartburn drugs for up to six months after they received a stent.

Though lab tests show heartburn drugs like AstraZeneca PLC's Nexium or Wyeth's Protonix, lessen the impact of blood thinners, that didn't seem to translate into the real world.

Researchers found patients on blood thinners and heartburn drugs were not at higher risk of heart attack, stroke or death. The studies analyzed were paid for by Daiichi Sankyo Company Limited and Eli Lilly and Company, which make similar drugs, but the new analysis did not get any funding.

Other experts said more information was still needed. "There's still reason for concern," said Jonathan Halperin, director of clinical cardiology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York and spokesman for the American Heart Association.

He said there was definitely an interaction between the drugs that needed to be monitored. "Some people can get away with (taking both types of drugs) for reasons we don't entirely understand."

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