Commonly used over-the-counter drugs such as Nexium and Prilosec are used to treat heartburn and episodes of acid reflux disease – but were intended for such use only on an occasional basis. Used regularly, they cause a number of serious side effects. Unfortunately, this is what many people have done, and are now facing kidney failure, arterial damage and more.
Nexium and Prilosec are part of a class of drugs known as proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs. They literally inhibit, or reduce the production of stomach acid. More than 20 million people in the U.S. alone use these medications on a regular basis – and PPI sales generate approximately $14 billion a year in revenues for the drug industry. It is small wonder that information about the serious side effects of PPIs have not been readily available until now.
The list of dangerous side effects is extensive. The most recent findings indicate that medications like Nexium and Prilosec raise a patient's risk of suffering a stroke. This research was presented at a meeting of medical scientists held in New Orleans.
Dr. Thomas Sehested of the Danish Heart Foundation pointed out that PPIs are already associated with arterial injuries, heart disease, kidney failure and dementia. “We wanted to see if PPIs also posed a risk for ischemic stroke, especially given their increasing use in the general population,” he said in reference to the study of which he was the lead author. Based on the study that involved nearly 250,000 patients over a six-year period, researchers discovered that people who used PPIs on a regular basis have more than a 20% greater risk of suffering ischemic stroke, which is the result of a clot that blocks blood flow to the brain.
The Danish study also showed that the risk was dependent upon dosage. Patients who used PPIs only occasionally at low doses did not have an elevated risk of stroke. According to the study, many individuals take PPIs far more often and in higher doses than recommended. This is particularly common for elderly patients.
Other health risks that have been noted by the FDA over the past several years include increased risk of hip and spinal fractures, magnesium deficiency and chronic diarrhea.
Yet another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association this past year showed that frequent PPI users had up to a 50% greater risk of developing serious kidney disease. According to Dr. Greg Gerrish, a surgeon who regularly treats gastroesophageal reflux for the Prairie Lakes Healthcare System in South Dakota, acid reflux affects approximately 3 out of 5 Americans at some point in their lives. He also points out that the condition is often the result of obesity, tobacco and alcohol use, and caffeine – suggesting that lifestyle changes can help in treating the problem.