Millions of people use a class of drugs known as proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs, to address heartburn and acid reflux. The medicine works by reducing the amount of acid that the stomach produces.

Two new studies, however, linked PPIs, which include the likes of Prilosec, Nexium and Prevacid, with increased risks for chronic kidney disease.

In one study involving over 24,000 individuals who developed chronic kidney disease between the years 2001 and 2008, Pradeep Arora, from the SUNY Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Science  in New York, and colleagues found that one in every four of these patients  were previously treated with PPI. They also noted that those who take PPIs were almost twice as likely to die prematurely.

In another study, Benjamin Lazarus, from Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital in Australia, and colleagues involved over 10,000 adults and found that those who use PPI had 50 percent increased odds to have chronic kidney disease compared with non-PPI users.

The researchers, however, said that the risk for chronic kidney disease was not increased when people use a different class of drugs known as H2-blockers, which also works by suppressing stomach acids. Zantac and Tagamet are examples of this drug.

While the studies merely show a link between PPIs and the development of chronic kidney disease, and did not prove a causal relationship, the researchers said the findings warrant precaution when taking this medication.

It isn't the first time that PPIs have been linked to kidney problems. They have already been tied to short-term kidney problems such as acute kidney injury and an inflammatory kidney disease known as acute interstitial nephritis.

"It is very reasonable to assume that PPIs themselves can cause chronic kidney disease," Arora said. "Patients should only use PPIs for [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] - approved indications, and not to treat simple heartburn or [indigestion]."

Arora pointed out several possible reasons that could explain the association between PPIs and chronic kidney disease. One is that the kidneys could eventually get damaged if patients repeatedly suffer from acute interstitial nephritis, which has been linked with short term use of these medications.

PPIs may also reduce the levels of magnesium in the blood and lack of this mineral may damage the kidneys.

The findings of the studies will be presented to the annual meeting of the American Society of Nephrology, which will be held in San Diego, California from Nov. 3-8.

Photo: Rennett Stowe | Flickr  

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