Can medications cause gastrointestinal (GI) disorders?

Lawrence S. Friedman, MD
Some prescription drugs can exacerbate heartburn. Oral contraceptives or postmenopausal hormone preparations containing progesterone are known culprits. Aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn) may also pose problems. A prescription NSAID known as a COX-2 inhibitor, celecoxib (Celebrex), is widely used to relieve pain because it is designed to be easier on the stomach than standard NSAIDs. Celebrex carries a warning, however, because it has been linked to an increased risk for heart attacks and strokes, and it causes gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms in some people. Corticosteroids, used to treat a variety of medical conditions, are also known to cause heartburn.

Other drugs -- such as alendronate (Fosamax), used to prevent and treat osteoporosis -- can irritate the esophagus. And some antidepressants, tranquilizers, and calcium-channel blockers can contribute to acid reflux by relaxing the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) -- the muscle connecting the esophagus and stomach. The asthma medication theophylline may initiate or aggravate reflux in some people, thereby causing chest pain. In an interesting twist, however, studies have found that theophylline can improve chest pain that is not caused by reflux or heart disease.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.