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A common heartburn drug shows promise in helping to treat coronavirus

Published Jun 5th, 2020 3:33PM EDT
coronavirus famotidine
Image: Peter Foley/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

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  • Coronavirus patients treated with the over-the-counter heartburn drug famotidine showed notable improvement in symptoms. 
  • The study was very small in scale, with only 10 participants, but the results are still promising.
  • A larger-scale study could prove whether or not the drug is truly beneficial for COVID-19 patients.

In the ongoing search for drugs and treatment options for patients with confirmed coronavirus infections, doctors have been raiding the medicine cabinets and throwing everything at the virus that they can think of. One of those drugs is the common heartburn medication Pepcid, and a new study suggests that it may actually be beneficial.

As CNN reports, a small-scale study of COVID-19 patients reveals that they saw their symptoms improve after using the over-the-counter heartburn drug. The study was published in the journal Gut. Yes, that’s the name of a medical journal.

Those who were enrolled in the study began taking “high-dose” famotidine, the non-brand-name for Pepcid, and their symptoms were tracked over the following days. Remarkably, all 10 of the volunteers reported an improvement in their symptoms within 48 hours, with many noting significant improvement within just one day of beginning the medication.

The study’s parameters are described as follows:

Ten consecutive patients with COVID-19 who self-administered high-dose oral famotidine were identified. The most frequently used famotidine regimen was 80 mg three times daily (n=6) for a median of 11 days (range: 5–21 days). Famotidine was well tolerated. All patients reported marked improvements of disease related symptoms after starting famotidine. The combined symptom score improved significantly within 24 hours of starting famotidine and peripheral oxygen saturation (n=2) and device recorded activity (n=1) increased.

“The results of this case series suggest that high-dose oral famotidine is well tolerated and associated with improved patient-reported outcomes in non-hospitalised patients with COVID-19,” the study reports.

Symptoms common with coronavirus infections including cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, headaches, and anosmia were reportedly improved, as well as “general unwellness.”

Obviously, it’s worth remembering that this was an incredibly small sample size. There’s not much you can glean from testing just 10 people, and considering it wasn’t placebo-controlled or blinded in any way, the results of the study can’t be held in high regard.

Nevertheless, for every single participant to report positive improvement in their symptoms after taking the heartburn drug is notable. As the researchers note, the results warrant a larger, controlled study to determine whether or not the drug can actually aid in the treatment of COVID-19 patients.

At the moment, the best protection against falling seriously ill with COVID-19 is to maintain social distancing and wear protective gear like masks when in public (if you absolutely have to go out). In the meantime, we’ll have to wait and see if researchers can come up with treatment before a vaccine is fully developed.

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