Do PPI medications do more harm than good?

Gastric acid-related conditions, such as heartburn, are extremely common in the United States. As many as 60 million Americans report experiencing heartburn at least once a month, according to the American College of Gastroenterology, while more than 15 million Americans say they suffer from heartburn on a daily basis.
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When proton pump inhibitor (PPI) medications were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), they offered much-needed relief to patients suffering from heartburn and other gastric acid maladies, and quickly found a place among the nation's best-selling drugs.

However, in recent years, studies have linked the long-term use of PPIs to a host of serious side effects and complications. One such study, conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan and the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, even suggested that popular PPI medications such as Prilosec® (omeprazole), Prevacid® (lansoprazole) and Nexium® (esomeprazole) may even do more harm than good.

Whether PPIs are more trouble than they're worth is still up for debate. The safest answer is, like most drugs, PPI medications have both benefits and drawbacks that must be carefully weighed and discussed with your doctor.

PPI Benefits

Popular PPI drugs offer numerous benefits, including:

  • Proven efficacy. PPIs work and work well, reducing stomach acid to less than 10 percent of normal levels and providing greater acid relief than chewable antacids or H2 blockers like Zantac® (ranitidine), Pepcid® (famotidine) or Tagamet® (cimetidine).
  • Effective treatment for tough gastric-acid disorders. PPIs are approved to treat chronic heartburn, peptic ulcer disease (PUD), gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug-induced gastropathy.
  • Provides long-term acid relief. Taken regularly, PPIs can stop heartburn before it starts.
  • Available by prescription and over the counter. PPIs are accessible to almost anyone. People with serious gastric acid disorders can ask their doctor for a prescription, and those with milder symptoms can pick up an over-the-counter version from their local pharmacy or grocery store.

PPI Drawbacks

Though PPI medications have many benefits, they have just as many, if not more, drawbacks, including:

  • Doesn't immediately relieve heartburn symptoms. Patients must take the medication for several days before seeing an improvement in their symptoms.
  • Can cause patients to have low magnesium levels. As a result, some people may experience painful muscle spasms, increased feelings of anxiety, and have trouble sleeping.
  • Renal problems, such as chronic kidney disease and kidney failure. Long-term PPI use is associated with subtle and gradual kidney damage that can ultimately result in renal failure.
  • Can cause osteoporosis-related wrist, spine, and hip fractures. PPIs weaken bones over time, resulting in fractures.
  • Associated with an increased risk of artery damage, cardiovascular disease, and heart attack. Recent (2017) studies have shown that exposure to PPIs changes the texture of the cells that line the blood vessels from slippery to sticky, allowing plaque to stick and form blockages.
  • May cause dementia. Studies have shown a link between long-term PPI use and dementia, particularly in older patients.
  • Associated with an increased risk of pneumonia and C. difficile infections. PPIs may weaken the immune system, making patients more susceptible to C. difficile infections and illnesses like pneumonia.
  • May interfere with nutrient absorption. When PPIs work to reduce stomach acid, they may also hinder the absorption of key nutrients, which can potentially lead to malnutrition.

PPIs are some of the most-used classes of drugs in America, but shouldn't be taken by most people on a long-term basis. The FDA recommends that patients take no more than three cycles of two-week courses of the drug each year. However, PPIs may be prescribed for longer periods for patients with ulcers.

Researchers estimate that many of the patients taking PPIs could control their heartburn via less risky means, such as chewable antacids, H2 blockers, and lifestyle or dietary changes.

Did You Experience Serious Side Effects While Taking PPIs?

If you experienced serious side effects, or developed a chronic or even life-threatening condition while taking a PPI medication, McGartland Law can help you fight for compensation from the drug's manufacturer. Contact us today to schedule an appointment for a free, no-obligation initial consultation to discuss your potential PPI case.