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Popular Heartburn Pills Can be Hard and Risky to Stop

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Yashica Kaushal2 years ago

NPR reports that new studies show proton pump inhibitors (PPI) can have harmful side effects that make it hard to come off the drug once heartburn has been treated.

Marcella Lafayette’s Experience

Marcella went to her doctor when she was experiencing really bad heartburn that was causing bad chest and back pain.

Her doctor diagnosed her with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and prescribed a PPI. The drug worked, but it led to problems like muscle weakness and severe leg cramping.

Those problems were due to a magnesium deficiency that was a side effect of the drug. Other side effects include deficiency of other nutrients and increased risks of infection.

When she decided to stop using the PPI, her symptoms returned and they were much worse than before. She started to experience severe stomach pain and could not get off the drug. 

About Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs)

An estimated 15 million American’s use PPIs, which are sold by prescriptions and under a variety of brand names, and, according to researchers, other patients using PPI’s report the same experiences. The amount of acid in their digestive system surges when they get off the drug, and that leads to severe stomach pain. 

Rising evidence of the risks associated with the medicine are making doctors increasingly nervous about their current widespread use.

John Clarke, a gastroenterologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital, say that despite the traditional teachings that these drugs are really safe, there is new data to suggest that PPI’s are not as safe as the medical community thinks they are. 

They work by blocking stomach acid, which might lead to the problems. Stomach acid acts as a wall against harmful pathogens that might be ingested. So if there’s less of it, patients are at a risk of nutritional deficiencies and infections. It also helps digest food, so if there isn’t any acid it makes it hard to get nutrients and vitamins from the food.

Clarke says that people take PPIs when they do not need to. They can get rid of the heartburn through lifestyle changes. They also stay on them a lot longer than they need to.

Doctor’s and the companies that make PPIs say that they can be really beneficial if used properly. They further assert that people with severe heartburn need to take PPIs to get rid of it.

Kenneth Devault, president of the American College of Gastroenterology, says that the drug relives symptoms better than any other medication developed. It may also reduce the risk of esophageal cancer for some patients and restore a quality of life. But he says that patients should try everything else first and know about the side effects completely before they consider taking a PPI.

Further Research about PPIs

New studies show that people who take PPIs could be at an increased risk for heart disease and chronic kidney failure. 

PPIs could increase the risk of dementia. Researchers at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases studied over 700,000 people ages 75 and older. They found that regular PPI users had at least a 44 % increased chance of dementia.

The risk could only be an “association” and further studies need to be conducted.

In mice, however, PPIs increase the amount of a damaging protein called beta-amyloid that is found in the brains of dementia patients. 


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