Millions of people take heartburn medication, but a large study suggests that these drugs may increase the risk of early death. Proton pump inhibitors have previously been associated with various health problems that include severe kidney damage, bone fractures, and dementia.
The National Health Service (NHS) issues over 50 million prescriptions yearly for the medication used in the treatment of heartburn, ulcers, and various gastrointestinal issues. Researchers, however, find that it may be important to limit the use of the medicine, reports The Telegraph.
How PPIs Work
Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) work by reducing the amount of acid produced by the stomach. Instead of neutralizing stomach acid chemically like other antacid drugs do, PPIs inhibit the production of acid by reducing the activity of proton-potassium pumps in the stomach’s parietal cells. Parietal cells are large cells in the lining of the stomach that secrete hydrochloric acid
Medical records were examined by researchers of more than 275,000 PPI users and almost 75,000 people who took H2 blockers, another class of drugs, to reduce stomach acid. The drugs are available over-the-counter (OTC) under brand names including Prilosec, Prevacid, and Zegerid. PPIs sold over-the-counter are most often used for heartburn and digestion. Both PPIs and H2 blockers are prescribed for serious medical issues such as gastrointestinal tract bleeding, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and esophageal cancer, according to The Telegraph.
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Increased Risk of Premature Death
The researchers discovered a 25 percent increased risk of death in the PPI group compared with the H2 blocker group. They surmised that, for every 500 people taking PPIs for a year, there is one extra death that would not otherwise have occurred.
“No matter how we sliced and diced the data from this large data set, we saw the same thing: an increased risk of death among PPI users,” said study senior author Doctor Ziyad Al-Aly, an assistant professor of medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in the United States. Dr. Al-Aly remarked that people have the impression that PPIs are safe because they are so easy to obtain, but there are significant risks to taking these medications, especially for long periods of time, reports The Telegraph.
It has also been found that kidney disease may be an increased risk for those using PPIs for an extended period of time.
Professor Tim Spector from Kings’ College London, and the author of “The Diet Myth” found that people taking PPIs had abnormal gut microbe communities that predisposed them to infection. Dr. Spector said, “Doctors are handing these drugs out like sweets. I would say around 50 percent of people don’t actually need to be on them.” He added that this was an observational study and by itself, may not mean a lot, but when added to all the other research, it is significant. “These drugs were developed before people even thought about what was happening in your gut.”
Dr. Al-Aly said that many people end up taking the drugs for months or years, despite the fact that recommended treatment for most PPIs is short, (for example, two to eight weeks for ulcers). He said that frequently people get prescribed PPIs for a sound medical reason, and patients keep getting refills without a periodic medical re-assessment. The doctor noted that PPIs that were over-the-counter contain the same chemical compounds as in the prescription PPIs, but at lower doses.
The study, published in the journal BMJ (British Medical Journal) Open concluded: “Emerging evidence suggests that PPIs may boost the risk of tissue damage arising from normal cellular processes, known as oxidative stress, as well as the shortening of telomere, which sit on the end of chromosomes and perform a role similar to the plastic tips on the end of shoelaces.”
It was found in previous studies that the drugs increase the risk of hip fractures by 35 percent and a heart attack by 20 percent. In 2016, German scientists found the drugs raise the risk of dementia by 44 percent.
In other studies, released in 2015 and 2016, it was indicated that when PPIs are used for 30 days or longer, the potential for acute kidney injury and acute interstitial nephritis (a kidney condition characterized by swelling in between the kidney tubules) increases.
Legal Information and Advice for PPI Users
If you or someone you know suffered adverse side effects involving the use of PPIs, you may have valuable legal rights. Parker Waichman LLP personal injury lawyers offer free, no-obligation case evaluations. We urge you to contact our attorneys at 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).