Consumer Alert: Common Heartburn Drugs Now Linked to… Pneumonia?
A new study from the University of Exeter shows a link between pneumonia in seniors and a common class of medications for heartburn and ulcers called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). The researchers found the risk of pneumonia increased during the second year of drug treatment.
Millions of Americans take PPIs, which are sold under the names of Nexium, Prilosec, Dexilent and Prevacid. The medications are frequently prescribed to reduce acid in the stomach.
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While 40 percent of older adults take PPIs, some experts contend that up to 85 percent of those who are prescribed the drugs may not actually need them. The researchers in the study warn patients not to stop taking PPIs, as they can prevent stomach bleeding. Instead, they advise those on the medications to ask their doctor if the drugs are still needed.
The connection between PPIs and pneumonia was investigated because stomach acid helps prevent infections from spreading to the intestines in people with reflux. Since pneumonia is a major cause of death in seniors, healthcare workers should more fully understand the link between the illness and the medications.
“This study shows that there was a higher rate of pneumonia in older people who received PPIs over a two year period. Caution is needed in interpreting the findings as our study is based on analyzing data from medical records, so other factors may be involved,” said David Melzer, Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health at the University of Exeter Medical School. “However, our study adds to growing evidence that PPIs are not quite as safe as previously thought, although they are still a very useful class of medication for certain groups of patients.”
To determine the link, the researchers examined a database called Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD) for England, which contains records from many medical practices in the U.K. The team narrowed the investigation to more than 75,000 patients who were 60 years old and older and who had been on PPIs for at least a year. They compared this group with the same number of patients who had not taken the drugs.
Results showed patients on PPIs had a greater risk of pneumonia in the second year. The authors concluded that while the medical community is debating the validity of studies that point to short-term harmful effects of PPIs, they should take seriously the potential of the long-term use of the drugs to cause harm in older adults. Findings were published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
Additional Health Risk Linked to PPIs
As the authors indicated, the new study isn’t the first to show PPIs may have troubling side effects. Earlier research has associated them with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, fractures, chronic kidney disease, dementia and some bacterial infections. Some experts also believe the drugs raise the risk of cancer of the esophagus and stomach. Moreover, a study just last month discovered PPIs may cause depression, an effect that may stem from their alteration of the gut’s bacterial community.
Why might PPIs cause such a broad scope of health problems? In 2016, researchers at Stanford University and Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas made a discovery they believe may underlie the drugs’ adverse effects. They found that in addition to turning off acid production in the stomach, PPIs block acid production in every cell of the body. This action prevents the cells from eliminating damaged proteins or “garbage” that accumulates with age, which may harm many organs at the same time. John Cooke M.D., Ph.D., chair of Cardiovascular Disease Research at Houston Methodist Hospital, one of the authors, told WebMD that patients who take the drugs should be under medical supervision if their doctor deems the benefits to outweigh the risks.
Mary West is a natural health enthusiast, as she believes this area can profoundly enhance wellness. She is the creator of a natural healing website where she focuses on solutions to health problems that work without side effects. You can visit her site and learn more at http://www.alternativemedicinetruth.com. Ms. West is also the author of Fight Cancer Through Powerful Natural Strategies.