Early, Unexpected Death A Potential Consequence of Heartburn Drugs
August 3, 2017
A new study published in the British Medical Journal Open has discovered alarming news for people who take certain heartburn medications. At prescription strength level, certain drugs have been tied to an increase in unexpected, early death. According to the study, particular heartburn medications can increase a person’s risk level by as much as 25%.
The culprits in the medical study are called proton-pump inhibitors, or PPIs. PPIs are used to treat heartburn, a symptom of (GERD). People often have heartburn as a result of increased acid production in the stomach, or because of structural damages that allow acid to reach the esophagus, causing irritation.
Heartburn is recognized for causing discomfort and can also cause difficulty swallowing, a persistent sore throat, persistent hoarseness or laryngitis, stomach pain in the upper abdominal area, chronic cough and regurgitation of liquids or foods accompanied by an acidic taste. Because heartburn is so uncomfortable, people often seek out prescription medications or over-the-counter remedies to fight it.
Acid-reducing medications such as PPIs target heartburn symptoms by decreasing the amount of acid that the stomach produces. Common types of PPIs that are on the market include Prevacid 24HR (lansoprazole) and Prilosec (omeprazole). Typical, less severe side effects of these medications are nausea, diarrhea, headaches and constipation.
A doctor may decide to prescribe PPIs if a patient has been experiencing heartburn for long periods of time, suffers from severe bouts of the condition or has tried other medications without success. However, other studies have found links between PPIs and serious, potentially fatal side effects, including bone fractures, dementia, C. diff infections, kidney disease, pneumonia and cardiovascular disease. Data also shows that PPIs can be particularly dangerous for postmenopausal women, because they can increase their risk of osteoporosis.
In the case of PPIs, researchers found that compared to patients to who doctor’s prescribed H2 blockers (or H2 receptor antagonists), the risk of death grew by one-quarter. Although the cause of this increase is not yet fully understood by the researchers and medical community, some theorize that it is a consequence of how the medication affects particular DNA activities, while it may simultaneously inhibit others from occurring at all.
There is a need to continue investigating how and why PPIs increase the risk of early and unexpected deaths, especially since there are other treatment options available. While research shows that H2 blockers may not be perfect, (typical side effects include dizziness, headaches and rash) they sound like a much safer alternative to PPIs. Over-the-counter heartburn medications – known as antacids – like Maalox and Tums, were not included in the study, but have not been found to pose the risk of early, unexpected death.
Medical professionals across the country have responded to the study’s findings. Most believe that the results indicate areas of concern, which warrant further medical research. That said, some note that the participants in the study tended to be older and had preexisting medical problems that could contribute to the risk of early death. Others believe that the evidence against the use of proton-pump inhibitors has been growing in past years, at least warranting more examination for overall safety.
It is important to regularly review what over-the-counter medications you take as well as what prescription medications you take directly with your doctor when you go for a visit. That way, a healthcare professional can assess which medications are necessary, and which may no longer be needed. If you have any questions about your prescription medications or are taking proton-pump inhibitors and have concerns, you should contact your doctor as well as our firm.
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