Feeling the Burn: Common Heartburn Medications Linked to Increased Risk of Other Disease
Prevacid, Prilosec, Nexium, Protonix, Dexilant and Zegerid. These are just a few the medications commonly used to treat gastrointestinal distress associated with excess production of acid.
A recent study led by Dr. Al-Aly, professor of medicine at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO, investigated the side effects of this class of drugs, proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs.
Dr. Al-Aly and his colleagues used data called from the medical records of the US Department of Veteran Affairs from 2002 to 2004 as a starting point for the research. During this period, approximately 158,000 people received PPI prescriptions for their gastrointestinal issues, while nearly 57,000 people received H2 blockers to treat the same conditions.
The scientists followed the participants for nearly 10 years. Due to the large number of participants, and the continued analysis of these participants, the scientists were able to accurately compare the negative side effects of PPIs versus H2 blockers in order to suppress production of acid. They developed a statistically valid model that showed PPIs were linked with a 17% higher risk of death, mainly due to heart disease, stomach cancer, and kidney disease.
More specifically, the researcher’s model showed that death due to cardiovascular disease would be approximately 88 per 1000 among those people using PPIs, versus 73 per 1000 among those using H2 blockers. The rates for stomach cancer were also higher among those using PPIs, but not dramatically so. On the other hand, rates for chronic kidney disease deaths were 9 per 1000 for those using PPIs versus 4.5 per 1000 among those using H2 blockers, double the rate.
It was further shown that the risk of death from these diseases increased along with duration of treatment, regardless of the dose taken.
Another fundamental discovery was that at least half of all of those taking PPIs had no medical need for them whatsoever. Quoting Dr. Al-Aly, “Most alarming to me is that serious harm may be experienced by people who are on PPIs but may not need them.
“Overuse is not devoid of harm. PPIs sold over-the-counter should have a clear warning about the potential for significant health risks, as well as a clearer warning about the need to limit the length of use.”
Dr. Al-Aly concluded, “Our study suggests the need to avoid PPIs when not medically necessary. For those who have a medical need, PPI use should be limited to the lowest effective dose and the shortest duration possible.”
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