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Approximately 31% of people with heartburn use proton pump inhibitors or PPIs, such as Prilosec, Nexium, Prevacid and Protonix, every day to block stomach acid production and reduce their heartburn symptoms. But a new study warns that the 15 million adults who use such heartburn drugs are gambling with their lives.
Latest research published in the British Medical Journal Open found that PPI use was associated with an increased risk of early death by 25%. Multiply that percentage by the 15 million people on PPIs and we’re talking about millions of people!
The risk continued to climb with prolonged use. In the study, using PPIs for one to two years was linked to an increased death risk of 50%.
“Limiting PPI use and duration to instances where it is medically indicated may be warranted,” report the researchers.
This study raises significant red flags for a class of drugs with widespread usage. “Not everyone who experiences heartburn needs [PPIs],” warns a team of researchers at Consumer Reports, which notes that PPIs are the third highest-selling type of drug in North America. “Several of the PPIs have been widely advertised to consumers and heavily promoted to physicians, and this has led to an overuse of the drugs in the treatment of garden-variety heartburn.”
Because of its widespread appeal, many people might view PPIs as harmless or “just heartburn medicine.” What often happens is that doctors put patients on PPIs for a limited period of time, usually a few weeks, to help them deal with the worst of the acid reflux symptoms. Patients are so moved by the effectiveness of the medication that they don’t want to get off. Everyone forgets about the terrible side effects that result from prolonged use. The latest study on its risks shows how dangerous this attitude may be, and it joins other research that warns of the side effects and risks of these medications.
PPIs can be very effective at suppressing heartburn symptoms, and that can lead to an overdependence on the medication. Marcella Lafayette, a woman from Portland, Oregon, told NPR’s Morning Edition broadcast that she was having a hard time going off of PPIs because when she did, her stomach acid levels surged. “I can’t seem to get off the drug, because when I do, I experience severe stomach pain,” she told the radio broadcaster.
This experience isn’t uncommon among those taking PPIs, and two studies — one in the journal Gastroenterology and the other in the American Journal of Gastroenterology — have highlighted these exact concerns.
Because heartburn pills affect your digestive system, scientists are realizing that they’re cutting people off from the nutrients in their food.
“PPIs have been associated with an increased risk of vitamin and mineral deficiencies impacting vitamin B12, vitamin C, calcium, iron and magnesium,” warns research in the Therapeutic Advances in Drug Safety journal.
This side effect, called nutrient depletion isn’t known to many doctors, and it emphasizes the importance of double-checking side effects of your medications
In what the Scientific American called “unsettling findings,” a study in the JAMA Neurology journal found heartburn medications increased the risk of developing dementia. And a second study linked PPIs to kidney health problems.
As these studies show, PPIs may not be your best choice when trying to manage the symptoms of heartburn.
“The occasional case of mild heartburn does not need to be treated with a PPI,” emphasizes Harvard Medical School.
Instead, consider lifestyle changes that have been shown to be effective in reducing your risks of heartburn without the complications brought on by PPIs: