A new study has linked heartburn drugs that millions of Americans use to increased risk of death. Experts, however, said that people prescribed to use the drugs may need to talk with their doctors first before deciding to stop taking the medicines.
PPI Linked To Higher Risk Of Early Death
Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), which is used to treat heartburn and reduce stomach acid, are often prescribed to people who are believed to be at risk of stomach ulcer, such as people who regularly take aspirin known to irritate the stomach's lining.
In a new research published in the British Medical Journal Open, researchers found that at prescription strength, PPIs are linked to 25 percent higher risk of early death compared with H2 blockers, which also work by reducing stomach acid.
"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 researchers wrote in their study.
Should People Stop Using PPI?
Study researcher Ziyad Al-Aly, from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, however, said that the findings of their research do not mean that people who take PPIs need to stop taking their medications.
He explained that patients have to talk with their doctor about the risks and benefits. He cited that in people with a bleeding ulcer whose life may be helped by these medications, the benefit of taking PPI drugs far outweighs the risk. Researchers likewise said that PPI may also be beneficial for some people with increased risk for cancer.
"These medications in the right context when patients need them, they actually could save lives," Al-Aly said. "So what we generally advocate is a very careful risk/benefit analysis in each individual to determine if the risk outweighs the benefit in any individual patient. That naturally has to be done by their physician."
It is also worth noting that despite finding an association between PPIs and greater risk of death, the research offered no proof that the elevated risk of death was directly caused by the PPI drugs.
Although the researchers attempted to adjust for underlying health factors such as heart disease, which is often treated with daily intake of aspirin, it is still positive that the effects of these or other factors may have influenced the results.
Over-The-Counter And Prescription PPIs
The researchers advised that people self-medicating with over-the-counter PPI should follow instructions on the label and FDA directions, and to discuss the pros and cons of the medications with a healthcare provider.
The researchers also said that over-the-counter drugs need to be only used for a short period of time. The prescription formulas for patients with severe conditions can be used for longer periods.