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Common heartburn drugs pulled over cancer concerns

Acid reflux and heartburn is a common condition for which many Americans take medication to relieve daily symptoms. But the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has become concerned that a drug called ranitidine, found in prescription drugs and the over-the-counter heartburn medicine Zantac, could cause cancer.

What prompted that concern and what action has the FDA taken?

The FDA was made aware of the issue last summer when an online pharmacy tested ranitidine and found higher-than-recommended levels of a contaminant known as N-Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA). NDMA can increase over time when stored at temperatures higher than room temperature, resulting in unacceptable levels.

In September, after conducting its own study, the FDA warned the public of risks and recommended those with heartburn consider options that don't contain ranitidine. But it was initially concerned that the pharmacy's results were invalid because the pharmacy had heated the product, creating the higher levels of NDMA.

Some stores voluntarily pulled Zantac from their shelves last fall. On April 1, the FDA requested that manufacturers withdraw all ranitidine drugs immediately.

The FDA reported it is unlikely that low levels of exposure would lead to an increased risk of cancer, but "sustained higher levels of exposure may increase the risk of cancer in humans."

However, the April 1 announcement seems to confirm the online pharmacy's findings, as the FDA both pulled ranitidine from the market and advised consumers taking ranitidine to stop and dispose of the medication properly.

Help for frequent users of Zantac

Studies are ongoing to determine the long-term effects of taking ranitidine, but those ​using it should speak with their health care professional about other options. Those who have taken Zantac or another ranitidine medication regularly in the past and have been diagnosed with cancer may want to consider seeking legal help. There may be options for obtaining compensation.

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