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June 03, 2019

Heartburn medications can cause more harm than good, large study finds

Taking proton pump inhibitors can lead to long-term health issues and even death

Adult Health Medications
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For those struggling with heartburn, it seems only natural to reach for an over-the-counter or prescription medication to treat the discomfort.

A new study, however, finds that doing so could result in serious long-term health issues and even death.

Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and Veterans Affairs St. Louis Health Care System found that long-term use of anti-heartburn drugs known as proton pump inhibitors – brand names Prevacid, Prilosec, Nexium and Protonix, included — can lead to fatal cases of cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney disease and upper gastrointestinal cancer, according to researchers, via Eureka

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The study was published online May 30 in the journal The BMJ.

"Taking PPIs over many months or years is not safe, and now we have a clearer picture of the health conditions associated with long-term PPI use," said Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, lead study author.

Researchers pored over U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs medical data for 157,625 people, primarily white men ages 65 and older who had recently been prescribed PPIs and 56,842 people who had been prescribed another type of acid-suppression drugs — H2 blockers. Researchers said they followed these groups for 10 years to see the effects.

They found that those taking PPIs had a 17 percent increased risk of death than those taking H2 blockers and calculated a total of 45 excess deaths tied to PPI use per 1,000 people.

The full breakdown of deaths tied to PPI use, according to the announcement:

Specifically, 15 per 1,000 of the PPI users died from heart disease; four per 1,000 from chronic kidney disease, and two per 1,000 from stomach cancer. Death rates due to cardiovascular disease were 88 among the PPI group and 73 among the H2 blockers group. For stomach cancer, death rates were six in the PPI group and four in the H2 blockers group. Death rates due to chronic kidney disease were eight and four in the PPI and H2 blocker groups, respectively.

Interestingly, the researchers found that more than half of the people whose data was reviewed did not have an actual medical need for PPIs. Further, researchers found that of those prescribed a PPI, 80 percent were on low enough doses to be the equivalent of over-the-counter alternatives. This suggests that an increased risk of death is likely with over-the-counter doses as well, researchers said.

According to the research team, packaging needs to be more clear about the potential damage PPIs can cause and people need to be aware that they may be taking these harmful drugs unnecessarily.

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