What You Need To Know if You Rely on Heartburn Meds

Researchers continue to find associations between PPIs and serious health problems.

Ugh, heartburn: The after-dinner event that we only enjoy on opposite day.

It's understatement of the year to say that heartburn is uncomfortable, and in some cases it can even mimic the signs of a heart attack. So it's not surprising when people pop acid reflux meds like they're pillow mints. What is surprising, however, are the serious health risks that may be associated with these medications.

PPIs and Chronic Kidney Disease Risk

Two large studies presented this week at the American Society of Nephrology's KidneyWeek 2015 in San Diego have found links between proton pump inhibitors (aka PPIs, such as Prilosec, Nexium, or Prevacid) and increased risk of chronic kidney disease (CKD). The first study, from Johns Hopkins University, found that PPI users were between 20 and 50 percent more likely to develop CKD than non-PPI users.

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The other study, from State University of New York at Buffalo, looked at over 75,000 patients. Of the more than 24,000 who developed CKD, 25 percent used PPIs. The researchers determined that PPIs were associated with a 10 percent increased risk of kidney disease and a 76 percent risk of dying prematurely.

PPIs and Heart Attack Risk

That's not all: PPIs were also linked to heart attacks in a June 2015 PLOS One study in which Stanford University researchers found that people who took the drugs over longer periods of time had the strongest link to cardiovascular risk.

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"These drugs were designed to be taken for weeks, not for the long-term," says Nicholas Leeper, MD, study co-author and associate professor of surgery and medicine at Stanford University Medical Center. "But because these drugs are available over-the-counter, people take them without any guidance."

The Bottom Line

Dr. Leeper suggests being more aware of how you're managing your acid reflux and trying to make  lifestyle changes, such as avoiding spicy foods and eating heavy meals late at night.

If you find that you still need to take acid reflux meds, consider discussing the risks associated with PPIs with your doctor, who may suggest taking a different type of heartburn medication known as H2 blockers (think Pepcid AC, Tagamet HB, and Zantac 75).

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