Popular heartburn and acid reflex medications, known as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), are one of the most widely sold over-the-counter medications in the world, ranking among the top 10 classes of drugs. Considering how common they have become, many might assume that PPIs are also harmless – but this assumption is quite far from the truth.
Taken to reduce the production of acid in the stomach and prevent gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), these over-the-counter heartburn medications are used by an estimated 15 million people in the United States. Brand names such as Nexium®, Prilosec®, Protonix®, and Prevacid® are widely found to be effective for these chronic acid reflux and stomach problems. But the fact of the matter is this: overuse of these medicines can prove just as – if not more – problematic and dangerous than either GERD or heartburn.
A 2016 study found strong evidence to suggest that long-term use of PPIs increases the chances of kidney damage, osteoporosis, heart attacks, and a weakened immune system. Let’s take a look at how research has developed since.
New Evidence: Severity of Effects on the Rise
Generally, the recommended dosage for PPIs is no more than 2 weeks’ worth. But because the drug seemingly works well against chronic digestive issues, it’s not uncommon for a physician to advise ongoing use – and before patients know it, they have been taking the pills regularly for several years.
As we already know from previous studies, PPIs can cause significant side effects if taken for longer than the suggested time frame. But, worryingly, the number of possible side effects continues to increase.
Recent research shows a strong connection between heartburn medications and kidney problems, including Acute Interstitial Nephritis (AIN), Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD), Acute Kidney Injury (AKI), and renal failure. The newest investigation into this connection revealed that chronic kidney diseases affect 15 percent of people who take PPIs.
“The general assumption is that PPIs as a drug class are safe,” said Ziyad Al-Aly from Washington University in St. Louis, who conducted the study. “PPIs do not receive the same level of scrutiny as many other drugs in terms of indication for initiating treatment and duration of therapy.”
Yet, links between the seemingly innocent heartburn medication and serious illness are unsettling for people who rely on heartburn medication to live comfortably.
While doctors don’t want people who have a genuine need for the medication to be put off by reports, they are now faced with giving patients an upsetting dilemma: risking life-altering disease, or dealing with symptoms that make daily life a misery.
GERD Sufferers: Don’t Overlook Further Options Just Yet
The controversy and issues surrounding PPIs haven’t only raised questions about treatment options; they have created an influx of seriously injured patients who are taking legal action.
Adverse effects of the drug have led to numerous federal lawsuits against companies such as AstraZeneca, the manufacturer of Nexium and Prilosec, and Takeda Pharmaceuticals, which produces Prevacid. These cases are based on claims that the companies failed to inform patients and physicians about increased risk of the above kidney-related diseases.
Last week, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) decided against centralizing all cases dealing with kidney injuries. Nevertheless, lawsuits are expected to grow into the thousands. Anyone who has suffered kidney problems after long-term use of PPIs should explore their legal options.
Patients should understand that long-term use of PPIs warrants very careful consideration. There are alternative treatments available to test, and lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, maintaining a normal body mass index (BMI), and avoiding fatty or spicy foods which can help to relieve GERD issues.
It’s important to remember that, while many proton pump inhibitors are freely available over the counter, non-prescription medicines should be treated with just as much caution as prescribed ones. If you regularly use PPIs, consult with your physician to ensure that the benefits of this treatment outweigh the risks.