Popular prescription heartburn medications may cause long-term kidney damage, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Nexium, Prevacid and Prilosec, are in a class of drugs called proton pump inhibtors (PPIs) that are used to treat acid reflux and heartburn by lowering the amount of acid produced by the stomach.
Researchers found 20 to 50 percent of PPI users are at greater risk of chronic kidney disease compared to nonusers.
An estimated 15 million Americans were using Proton pump inhibitors in 2013, the most recent stats available. But, about 70 percent of those prescriptions were inappropriately handed out and 25 percent of long-term users could discontinue taking the medication without suffering increased acid reflux or heartburn.
Prescription heartburn drugs have previously been linked to short-term kidney issues such as acute interstitial nephritis, an inflammatory kidney disease. But newer studies are showing an association between the drugs and chronic kidney disease, in which the kidneys lose their ability to effectively filter blood and can lead to kidney failure.
A few theories exist as to how the drugs might damage the kidneys, but researchers are not yet conclusively sure. Gastroenterologists are also cautious regarding this class of drugs because they’ve been linked to other health conditions including bone fractures and infections of C. difficile. As such, the amount of time patients are on PPIs has been limited, said Dr. Arun Swaminath, director of the inflammatory bowel disease program at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
This study shouldn’t lead anyone to abruptly stop taking heartburn medications, but people that take PPIs regularly, should talk to their doctor about the pros and cons of use as well as safer alternatives.