A new study suggests that patients who take Nexium and other proton pump inhibitors may be more likely to suffer an early death compared to those who rely on alternative heartburn drugs. The findings, which were published this month in BMJ Open, also indicated that the risk increases the longer an individual uses the medications.
Proton pump inhibitors are indicated for the short-term treatment of GERD and other peptic disorders related to the excess production of gastric acid. Prescription and over-the-counter drugs in this class include Nexium, Nexium 24HR, Prilosec, Prilosec OTC, PrevAcid, PrevAcid 24HR, Dexilant, and Protonix, among others. While more than 15 million Americans used prescription proton pump inhibitors in 2013, it has been estimated that between 25% and 70% of these prescriptions have no appropriate indication.
Because they are so ubiquitous, most people consider drugs like Nexium to be perfectly safe, giving little thought to their potential side effects. However, recent studies have tied long-term proton pump inhibitor use to kidney failure and other renal complications, while other research has linked the drugs to heart attacks, bone fractures, dementia, stomach infections and pneumonia.
This latest study drew data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs database, with the authors identifying 275,933 people who had been prescribed a proton pump inhibitor and 73,355 who’d been prescribed an H2 blocker between October 2006 and September 2008. Deaths were tracked for up to five years.
Patients treated with proton pump inhibitors were 25% more likely to die early compared to those using H2 blockers. The risk of early death was 50% higher among patients who took proton pump inhibitors for one to two years compared to those treated with H2 blockers.
“The results suggest excess risk of death among PPI users; risk is also increased among those without gastrointestinal conditions and with prolonged duration of use,” the study concludes. “Limiting PPI use and duration to instances where it is medically indicated may be warranted.”
Dozens of people are currently pursuing proton pump inhibitor lawsuits for kidney complications, including renal failure and chronic kidney disease, allegedly related to long-term treatment with the drugs. Plaintiffs claim that the manufacturers of Nexium, Prilosec, PrevAcid, Dexilant and Protonix have been aware for years that these medications could potentially harm the kidneys, yet failed to issue appropriate warnings to doctors and patients. Plaintiffs further assert that they could have avoided serious kidney damage had proper notice of these risks been provided.
Later this month, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) will hear oral arguments on a proposal to centralize all such federal claims in a single U.S. District Court for coordinated pretrial proceedings. The JPML denied a similar request in February, when just 15 cases were pending. However, the federal proton pump inhibitor litigation has now grown to include more than 170 kidney injury lawsuits.