Dr. Campbell: Common heartburn drugs may increase your risk of death


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Many Americans take either prescription or over-the-counter heartburn drugs every single day. Now, a new study published in the journal BMJ Open has shown that one class of heartburn drugs called proton pump inhibitors (or PPIs) may actually increase your risk of death over time.

1. What does a PPI drug do?

PPIs or proton pump inhibitors work in the stomach to decrease the amount of stomach acid that you produce in order to decrease heartburn and reflux symptoms. Common names are Prilosec, Nexium, Prevacid and they are sold over-the-counter or by prescription. Other acid drugs that are available are called H2 blockers and common names are Zantac and Pepcid — these work to block acid production in a different way from PPIs.

2. Tell us about this study and what it showed

Researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, looked at data from 275,933 people who had been prescribed a PPI and 73,355 who’d been prescribed an H2 blocker between October 2006 and September 2008. They compared the rate of death in these two groups and found a 25 percent increased risk of death in the patients who took a PPI compared with the people who took H2 blockers — about one extra death for every 500 people taking PPIs for a year. In addition, they found that the longer a patient was on a PPI, the greater the risk of death.

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3. What should you do if you are currently taking a PPI?

First of all, as with many studies that we report on here at CBS North Carolina, this one was observational and does not prove cause and effect — however, it does demonstrate a strong association that we need to investigate further.

If you are currently taking a PPI, it does not mean that you should necessarily stop taking them. You should talk with your doctor and determine if the benefit it is providing you outweighs the perceived risk. For many, PPIs are a great way to treat bleeding ulcers and it may be that you should remain on the drug long-term. However, with any medication, it is important to re-evaluate your need for a particular treatment every time you meet with your physician.

To get in touch with Dr. Campbell, you can head to his website, Facebook page or message him on Twitter.

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