People taking a popular kind of heartburn medication may have an elevated risk of death over a five-year period, warns new research.
Participants in the new study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis who took proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) emerged with a more pronounced risk of dying over the study period than people who had another kind of heartburn drug and those who didn’t take heartburn drugs at all.
Millions in the United States, or almost 8 percent, are prescribed with Prevacid, Nexium, Prilosec, and other PPIs today as treatment for heartburn, ulcers, and gastrointestinal issues. PPIs have been previously tied to health problems such as dementia, kidney damage, and bone fractures.
In the study detailed in BMJ Open, the team examined medical data from some 275,000 PPI users and almost 75,000 people who were given H2 blockers, a different category of medicines prescribed for reducing stomach acid. The data comprised more than 6 million individuals in the database of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
“No matter how we sliced and diced the data from this large data set, we saw the same thing: There’s an increased risk of death among PPI users,” said senior author and assistant professor of medicine Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly in a statement.
Comparing patients who took PPIs with those who took H2 blockers, the researchers discovered that those on the former had a 25 percent greater risk of death from any cause within a five-year span. Among patients who took the medications for one to two years, those on PPIs had a 50 percent greater death risk during the period.
You May Not Need Those PPIs You’re Taking
The authors also noted that up to 70 percent of people taking PPI may not need them, especially with links made to increase risks for kidney disease and bacterial infections.
Most PPIs are recommended to be taken for a short time, or only two to eight weeks for ulcer. Many patients, however, typically end up taking the drugs for months to years.
Al-Aly, a kidney specialist, called for period re-assessments to see whether people need to keep refilling their prescription.
According to the researchers, theirs was an observational study and did not establish a cause-and-effect. As the majority of subjects were also older white veterans, the findings may not readily apply to other groups.
For Al-Aly, it’s about weighing the risks and benefits when taking a PPI, as well as getting consistently monitored by a doctor to calculate the need.