Heartburn Drugs Study Links to Premature Death

Some recent studies have traced proton-pump inhibitors, also known as PPI, for relief of stomach acid, linked to stroke and kidney diseases.

The British Medical Journal Open has recently published a study showed that at prescription level, the proton-pump inhibitors to remedy stomach acid are linked to about 25 percent increased risks of premature deaths from any cause. Take note that the study have not assessed the over-the-counter (OTC) proton-pump inhibitors or specific prescription-strength drugs.


credit image: Mike Sheridan

The proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs) aids in inhibiting excessive acid in the stomach, also known as heartburn. Normally, while lower-dosage OTC formulas are approved for use for shorter period, prescription formulas are taken by individuals with serious conditions for prolonged period as ruled by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Take note again that the limits of the research excludes proving their cause and effect.

The Comparison and Analysis

Some previous study linked that increased risks of poor health was attributed to the use of proton-pump inhibitors. Its research head Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly from Washington University School of Medicine, said, “A number of studies reported that use (of these drugs) is associated with a number of adverse events including kidney disease, fractures, pneumonia, dementia, C. diff infections and cardiovascular disease.”


credit image: Harvard Health Publications

The research team wondered if the occurrence may be translated to possible increased risks of death. Hence, they made examined data from U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on estimated 3.5 million people. VA is known to have the biggest integrated electronic medical record system all over the world. To find answers to their question, the research team headed by Al-Aly were able to find huge number of patients and follow them up for at least 6 years.

The research team was able to compare patients who took the PPIs with those who used another kind of drug that inhibits stomach acid, such as histamine H2 receptor antagonists, also known as H2 blockers. The team conducted other comparisons which included patients who took PPIs against those who did not use either PPIs or H2 blockers.

It was estimated that individuals who took proton-pump inhibitors suffered almost 25 percent increased risk of death from all causes compared with people who took H2 blockers.

If an estimated 500 people used PPIs for one year, there would be one death that may be associated to the use of the drug, as explained by Al-Aly. And the longer people took PPIs, the higher risks of premature deaths. When they compared those who took PPIs with those who did not take PPIs or H2 blockers, it had the same 25 percent higher risks level, according to their analysis. Al-Aly explained, “In our studies, however we looked at the data, there was always a consistent relationship between (proton-pump inhibitor) use and the risk of death.”

The research team led by Al-Aly conveyed that the biological reason for the association of PPIs and heightened risks of premature deaths is vague, although some proofs suggested that the drugs alter how genes express themselves, like increasing some DNA movements while reducing others. These genetic differences may lead to premature deaths.

There is, however, an increasing scientific proof that shows a “hosts of adverse events” linked to the use of these drugs is “compelling,” as noted by Al-Aly and his co-authors. They stated that restricting an individual use of these drugs to occurrences and durations “where it is medically indicated may be warranted.”

The AstraZeneca, an international drug company that manufactures two famous products that both come in OTC and prescription-strength formulations. Alexandra Engel, AstraZeneca’s spokeswoman said, “We are confident in the safety and efficacy of Nexium and Prilosec when used in accordance with the FDA approved label, which has been established through numerous clinical trials.” Both brands were not involved in the recent study.

Anita Brikman, Senior Vice-President at Consumer Healthcare Products Association, said, “did not look at OTC products, rather, it only involved prescription (proton-pump inhibitors) which are typically used at higher doses and for longer durations.” The Consumer Healthcare Products Association is a trade organization that represent over-the-counter drug producers and was not involved in the study. “This is an observational study, so no firm conclusions can be drawn,” she concluded.

Also read: 10 Unhealthy Foods with FDA Approval But Unlawful In Other Countries



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