Heartburn drugs may increase risk of early death

A new study suggests that patients who take Nexium and other proton pump inhibitors may be more likely to suffer an early death compared to those who rely on alternative heartburn drugs. Lead author Ziyad Al-Aly, an assistant professor of medicine at the Washington University School of Medicine, cautioned that people should not panic with the new findings. Lifestyle changes could go a long way towards relieving heartburn without the need for drugs, and PPIs need to be taken in the right amount to ensure the benefits outweigh the risks.

And with millions of people using PPIs on a daily basis to treat heartburn and stomach acid, thousands of additional deaths could result.

Other studies have shown that PPIs are frequently overprescribed, and the researchers say that much of the added risk may be in people who didn't need the drug in the first place. "This enabled us to look at more patients and to follow them up for almost six years to examine our research questions".

Dr. Al-Aly and his colleagues examined data from patients in the Veterans Affairs health care system who took PPIs, those who took another type of medication to help with acid reflux, as well as those who took neither.

People taking common heartburn and indigestion medicines may face a heightened risk of premature death, according to new observational research published Monday in the "British Medical Journal Open". However, recent studies have tied long-term proton pump inhibitor use to kidney failure and other renal complications, while other research has linked the drugs to heart attacks, bone fractures, dementia, stomach infections and pneumonia. Instead, the team focused on prescription PPIs typically used at higher doses and for longer durations, CNN reported.

Dr. Al-Aly said there was always a consistent relationship between proton-pump inhibitor use and the risk of death.

About 10 percent of the veterans who were taking PPIs died within one year, the center's volunteer statisticians noted.

But the Science Media Centre, a United Kingdom nonprofit that comments on scientific studies, said this study can not prove that PPIs are linked to an increased risk of death because the researchers retroactively looked at the medical records of elderly veterans. The study also does not necessarily prove cause and effect, the researchers said.

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