Could Heartburn Med Pepcid Ease COVID-19 Symptoms?

THURSDAY, June 4, 2020 (HealthDay News) — An over-the-counter heartburn remedy is showing some potential as a symptom reliever for COVID-19, a small study finds.

Famotidine, sold under the brand name Pepcid, appeared to improve symptoms in a group of 10 patients diagnosed with COVID-19, researchers reported online June 4 in the journal Gut.

The patients’ self-reported symptoms began to feel better within a day or two of taking famotidine, the study authors said.

“A clinical trial is now needed to formally test if famotidine works against COVID-19,” said lead researcher Dr. Tobias Janowitz, a medical oncologist and cancer researcher with Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York.

But don’t rush out to stock up on Pepcid just yet, warned Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore.

“This is a very small study that was observational in nature,” Adalja said. “It is very hard to draw any conclusions from it.”

A clinical trial in which Pepcid’s effectiveness is compared against a placebo is essential to prove that the medication works, since it is being used in mild to moderate cases of COVID-19, Adalja said.

“These are mild cases and mild cases do get better over time, so these cases have to be compared to placebo in order to see if this was actually just the natural course of infection or the famotidine,” Adalja explained.

Famotidine is an H2 blocker, a type of heartburn medication that works by decreasing the amount of acid the stomach produces.

Early in the outbreak, doctors found that many older people in Wuhan, China, who survived COVID-19 had been taking heartburn medications, researchers said.

Reviewing patient records, the investigators found that survivors suffering from chronic heartburn had been taking Pepcid rather than the more expensive omeprazole (Prilosec), Northwell Health Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research president Dr. Kevin Tracey told the Science journal in April.

Hospitalized COVID-19 patients who’d been taking Pepcid were dying at about half the rate of those not taking the drug, 14% versus 27%, Tracey said.

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