Study links heartburn drugs to stomach cancer, lethal heart and kidney disease

Washington: People frequently popping pills for heartburn need to take note! A recent study has found that heartburn, ulcers and acid reflux drugs are associated with a higher risk of premature death. However, little has been known about the specific causes of death attributed to the drugs.

The study published in the journal ‘British Medical Journal’ has linked long-term use of such drugs, called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), to fatal cases of cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney disease and upper gastrointestinal cancer.

PPIs- sold under brand names such as Prevacid, Prilosec, Nexium and Protonix- bring relief by reducing gastric acid.

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The researchers also found that such risk increases with the duration of PPI use, even when the drugs are taken at low doses.

“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 Ziyad Al-Aly, study’s senior author.

For the study, researchers sifted through de-identified medical records in a database maintained by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Examining medical data acquired from July 2002 to June 2004, the researchers identified 157,625 people- mostly Caucasian men ages 65 and older- who had been newly prescribed PPIs, and 56,842 people who had been newly prescribed another class of acid-suppression drugs known as H2 blockers. They followed the patients- 214,467 in total- for up to 10 years.

The researchers found a 17 per cent increased risk of death in the PPI group compared with the H2 blocker group. They calculated 45 excess deaths attributable to long-term PPI use per 1,000 people.

Death rates for PPIs were 387 per 1,000 people, and death rates for H2 blockers were 342 per 1,000.
“Given the millions of people who take PPIs regularly, this translates into thousands of excess deaths every year,” said Al-Aly.

PPI use was associated with deaths caused by cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney disease and upper gastrointestinal cancer. 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.

“Most alarming to me is that serious harm may be experienced by people who are on PPIs but may not need them,” Al-Aly said. “Overuse is not devoid of harm.”

The study also found that more than 80 percent of PPI users were on low doses of the prescription drug, or those equivalent to doses offered in over-the-counter versions.

“This suggests the risk may not be limited to prescription PPIs, but it also may occur at over-the-counter doses,” he said.


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