Nexium, Prilosec, PrevAcid and other proton pump inhibitors are highly effective medications used to treat GERD and other problems associated with the excess production of gastric acid. While they have been considered extremely safe, recent research has found that extended use of these drugs may increase a patient’s risk for kidney complications, including chronic kidney disease and renal failure. Other studies have found possible links to heart attacks, dementia and blood vessel damage.
Prilosec (omeprazole), the first proton pump inhibitor approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, was brought to market in 1989. Since then, a number of other proton pump inhibitors have been approved for either prescription or over-the-counter sales, including:
Proton pump inhibitors work by inhibiting the ability of certain cells in the stomach to produce gastric acid. Over-production of acid can lead to or aggravate a number of conditions, including ulcers. As such, the use of proton pump inhibitors can help alleviate:
Side effects commonly associated with the use of proton pump inhibitors include headache, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, or itching. Long-term use of the drugs has also been linked to infections, bone fractures, and certain vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Proton pump inhibitors might also interact with other medications, including some anti-seizure drugs and blood thinners like warfarin or Plavix.
Approximately 20 million people in the U.S. take proton pump inhibitors, and they are the most commonly used drugs in the world. Their popularity has led to concerns that the medications are being overused. In fact, one recent study suggested that as many as 75% of the prescriptions written for proton pump inhibitors are inappropriate. And while the drugs should only be taken for a short period of time (ranging from 3 to 8 weeks); the same research found that 31% of patients had been taking proton pump inhibitors for two years or more. At least 25% had been using the drugs for about a year.
There are many options for treating acid-related problems. For infrequent heartburn, consider life-style changes and over-the-counter antacids like TUMS. Another class of heartburn drugs called H2 blockers, which includes Zantac and Tagamet, can be used as a long-term solution for the management of acid-related problems. However, H2 blockers are not an ideal treatment for esophagitis.
A study published in May 2016 suggested that women who used proton pump inhibitors could obtain the same benefits from lower doses of the drugs. Published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, the study involved around 100 proton pump inhibitor users, half male and half female, who were undergoing treatment for erosive esophagitis. During the experiment, half took a lower dose for 8 weeks. The women involved in the study were three times more likely to tolerate the lower dosage compared to men. Read More
In July 2016, Consumer Reports warned that proton pump inhibitors are actually a poor choice for most heartburn sufferers, as the majority could find relief with other treatments. Among other things, the article cited the many side effects associated with the drugs, as well as recent studies suggesting that long-term use of proton pump inhibitors might be associated with an increased risk of chronic kidney disease and kidney failure. Read More
Some recent studies have suggested that the long-term use of proton pump inhibitors has the potential to adversely affect a person’s health:
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