Haematological adverse effects of histamine H2-receptor antagonists

Med Toxicol Adverse Drug Exp. Nov-Dec 1988;3(6):430-48. doi: 10.1007/BF03259895.


Histamine H2-receptor antagonists are widely used in the treatment of gastrointestinal diseases related to gastric acid hypersecretion. Cimetidine was introduced into medical practice in 1976 and ranitidine, famotidine and nizatidine in 1981, 1985 and 1987, respectively. Haematological adverse effects are relatively uncommon and most have been reported in cases of cimetidine administration. These adverse effects are reviewed under 4 main headings: (a) blood cytopenias and leucocytosis; (b) coagulation disorders related to drug interactions with oral anticoagulants; (c) reduction of dietary iron absorption; and (d) reduction of dietary cobalamin absorption. 85 reported cases of blood cytopenias attributed to these drugs are reviewed, of which 75 (88%) were associated with cimetidine therapy. In postmarketing surveillance studies, the incidence of cimetidine-associated blood cytopenia has been evaluated at about 2.3 per 100,000 patients. Neutropenia and agranulocytosis are by far the most frequently encountered. Whatever the drug or the type of cytopenia, this adverse effect is almost always rapidly reversible when treatment is stopped. Moreover, in several cases other factors such as underlying diseases or additional drugs could have been responsible, at least partly, for the cytopenia. The pathophysiological basis of these adverse effects remains poorly explained. Various mechanisms have been proposed, which in some cases are probably associated: (a) direct toxicity for haemopoietic stem cells; (b) drug-induced immune reactions leading to blood or bone marrow cell damage, and (c) drug interactions, with increased and prolonged action of potentially haematotoxic drugs. Mechanisms (a) and (c) appear to be of particular clinical importance in cases of impaired renal elimination of H2-receptor antagonists. Cimetidine and probably to a lesser extent ranitidine potentiate the action of oral anticoagulants of both coumarin and indanedione structure. This may result in haemorrhagic complications. Such action is a consequence of the reduced hepatic metabolism of oral anticoagulants through a dose-dependent, reversible inhibition of cytochrome P450. Malabsorption of dietary iron and cobalamin appears to result from inhibition of gastric secretion by the H2-receptor antagonists. This is of no clinical importance in short term treatment, but long term use of H2-receptor antagonists may theoretically contribute to the occurrence of iron or cobalamin deficiency anaemia.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Agranulocytosis / chemically induced
  • Cimetidine / adverse effects
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / metabolism
  • Hematologic Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Hematologic Diseases / physiopathology
  • Hemostasis / drug effects
  • Histamine H2 Antagonists / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Iron / metabolism
  • Neutropenia / chemically induced
  • Vitamin B 12 / metabolism


  • Histamine H2 Antagonists
  • Cimetidine
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System
  • Iron
  • Vitamin B 12