Recent reports regarding potential dangers of over-the-counter acid reflux medications have alarmed many consumers across the nation. In June 2105, a report was issued which stated those who used specific heartburn medications for a long period of time could have a heightened risk (16-21 percent) of suffering a heart attack. Medical records taken from more than 300,000 adults in the United States who suffered from acid reflux disease (heartburn) found the risk of heart attack was elevated among those taking over-the-counter heartburn medications.
Proton Pump Inhibitor Medications Associated with Serious Side Effects
Not all heartburn medications were implicated, only those proton pump inhibitors such as Prevacid, Prilosec, Protonix and Nexium. Once only available via prescription, in 2009, these drugs were the third-most commonly used type of drug in the U.S. Another class of acid-reflux drugs known as H2 blockers (Zantac, Pepcid and Tagamet) was not linked to the same risks as the proton pump inhibitors. When stomach acids are blocked, so are the body’s abilities to absorb certain nutrients such as vitamin B12, calcium and magnesium.
Because of this, long-term use of proton pump inhibitors has also been linked to bone fractures and loss of bone density. Those who take Plavix, a clot-preventing drug, could also be lowering the effectiveness of that drug by taking proton pump inhibitor drugs. Unfortunately, many of those in the United States have been taking proton pump inhibitors for years, which is far beyond the maximum recommended window of 8-12 weeks. Prilosec, Nexium, Prevacid and Protonix have sales which exceed $13.5 billion annually.
How Proton Pump Inhibitors Work
Stomach acids are necessary to aid in the digestion of food and nutrients, however in some cases the valve at the end of your esophagus fails to close properly, and the stomach acids leak back up into the esophagus, leading to heartburn. Other potential side effects often seen with the long-term use of proton pump inhibitor drugs include:
- The inhibition of iron, which can contribute to anemia;
- An increased risk of wrist, spine and hip fractures;
- An 89 percent increased risk of developing pneumonia;
- An inability to absorb folic acid, which in turn disrupts the production of new cells, and
- An impairment of zinc absorption, which is necessary for many enzyme reactions in the body.
Proton pump inhibitors not only block the release of stomach acid, they can also lead to an increase in bacterial infections, and, when stopped suddenly, serious withdrawal symptoms can occur. A controlled trial published in Gastroenterology showed withdrawal from proton pump inhibitor drugs leads to rebound acid hypersecretion—often so severe as to result in a trip to the ER—forcing the patient to immediately start taking the PPI drugs once more.
FDA Cautions Consumers About Long-Term Use of Proton Pump Inhibitors
The FDA even issued a report which cautioned consumers against the prolonged use of proton-pump inhibitors, despite the fact that doctors wrote 114 million prescriptions for them in 2015. In addition to the above issues associated with prolonged use of proton pump inhibitors, the FDA added the risk of dementia to the list.
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