A study has found that a popular heartburn drug may be linked to an increased risk of death, following on from other studies that highlighted the various health problems they could cause.
The drugs are called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). They are commonly used to treat serious medical conditions like upper gastrointestinal tract bleeding, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and esophageal cancer.
Some of these are sold over the counter to treat indigestion, such as omeprazole. It should be noted that antacids, such as Rennies or Gaviscon, do not use PPIs.
This latest study was carried out by researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine. They examined the medical records of about 275,000 users of PPIs and 75,000 who took other drugs known as H2 blockers to reduce stomach acid. The research was published in the journal BMJ Open.
Among the PPI group, the researchers found a 25 percent increase in death compared to the H2 blocker group. The study looked at people who started taking PPIs between October 2006 and September 2008, and looked at their medical history over the next five years.
"No matter how we sliced and diced the data from this large data set, we saw the same thing: There's an increased risk of death among PPI users," said senior author Ziyad Al-Aly in a statement. "People have the idea that PPIs are very safe because they are readily available, but there are real risks to taking these drugs, particularly for long periods of time."
However, the results are certainly not without controversy. The National Health Service (NHS) in the UK noted some limitations of the study, such as that “the conditions people were taking PPIs for in the first place may also have been one of the main causes of death.”
The NHS also pointed out the study involved people from the US Department of Veterans Affairs national databases, a relatively narrow cross-section of society. The causes of death were also not directly linked to PPIs in any way.
Importantly, they note that people who have been prescribed PPIs shouldn’t stop taking them, as “the risk of not doing so may be much greater than any risk the drugs pose.”
Even the researchers admit this too. “PPIs save lives," Al-Aly said."If I needed a PPI, I absolutely would take it. But I wouldn't take it willy-nilly if I didn't need it. And I would want my doctor to be monitoring me carefully and take me off it the moment it was no longer needed."
As always with these sorts of things, if you need medical advice regarding PPIs, have a word with your doctor. They’ll be able to give you much better advice than an online article ever will.