Is It Dangerous to Take Zantac During Pregnancy?

Approximately 50% of expectant mothers experience symptoms of heartburn either for a short portion or throughout the duration of their pregnancy. For years, physicians have approved of, and even encouraged the use of over-the-counter drugs such as Zantac for relief. However, a recent discovery in late 2019 has revealed that the drug has been contaminated with N-nitrosodimethylamine, better known as NDMA. Experts have ordered the cessation of both the manufacturing and selling of Zantac upon the discovery. Justifiably so, pregnant women are now stuck between a rock and a hard place, needing relief from their symptoms. Recent studies have revealed the very real dangers of Zantac during pregnancy.

Current Dangers Associated with the Use of Zantac

This past April, a study by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) confirmed that Zantac, also known by its generic name, ranitidine, has been contaminated with dangerously high levels of NDMA. This possible carcinogen has been discovered in the past to be present in foods and water as well. Since then, pharmacies across the nation, including CVS, RiteAid, and Walgreens have removed the over-the-counter medication from their inventory. 

Currently, NDMA is linked to a long list of cancers, including those on the partial list below:

  • Uterine cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Leukemia
  • Stomach cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Bladder cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Thyroid cancer

These dangers are a very real threat to everyone, but especially pregnant women. Unfortunately, expectant mothers are vulnerable to symptoms of heartburn. (Experts believe that the high concentrations of pregnancy hormones like progesterone are to blame. As the muscular valve responsible for closing and opening the stomach relaxes when it would typically remain tight and closed, this results in the flowing of stomach acids back up into the esophagus, resulting in the “burning” feeling in the chest and throat.) 

Risks to Pregnant Women

Though the risk of NDMA exposure is very real, there is no cause for alarm quite yet. Dr. Nicole Smith of Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital has advised that, if you have been taking Zantac thus far in your pregnancy, your level of risk is relatively low, although you should still heed warnings and stop taking the drug. You can seek alternatives to the drug, such as:

  • Iron salts
  • Ketoconazole
  • Itraconazole
  • Atazanavir
  • Indinavir

All of these drugs are categorized as H2 receptor antagonists, meaning they are all designed to reduce the body’s production of stomach acid. They are all used in the treatment of acid reflux, indigestion, ulcers that have developed in the digestive system, and even before the administration of anesthesia to prevent stomach acid from entering the lungs. 

It cannot yet be said that the use of H2 receptor antagonists is entirely safe or unsafe. Rather, it depends on your individual need for the drug and the potential impacts it can have on both you and your baby (such impacts are dependent on the stage of your pregnancy). Side effects you may experience from ingesting Zantac include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Constipation
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea 

Consult your physician to determine whether you should continue in your use of H2 receptor antagonistsor seek other forms of relief for your heartburn.