Sufferers of heartburn and indigestion can alleviate symptoms using medication that suppresses acid being produced in the stomach. Every year in the UK over 50 million prescriptions are given to patients for Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs), drugs that work by neutralising stomach acid. In lower doses, they are also available over the counter at pharmacies.
Latest research from the US, however, has reported an increased rate of mortality among patients taking PPIs compared with other types of acid-inhibiting drug, or avoiding medication altogether. The study is published in the BMJ Open journal. It includes a review of data on over 3.5 million US patients, of whom 10% were followed for over five years.
The study found that among the population taking PPIs, the rate of death was up to 25% higher than among those not taking PPIs or taking a different acid-suppressant. The study’s authors are careful to point out that this observation does not enable the direct conclusion that PPIs are the cause of death. They do, however, conclude that patients should be more discerning and should check with their doctor to determine whether or not taking PPIs is really necessary for their condition.
For many patients, PPIs are highly effective in reducing the symptoms and complications of gastro-intestinal conditions, including ulcers and bleeding. They can improve and extend life and avoid the need for surgery and are a necessary and welcome treatment for these patients.
For others, though, PPIs may be putting them at increased and avoidable risk. Changes to diet and lifestyle could be equally as effective in managing symptoms, without any of the potential side effects associated with PPIs. Previous studies have raised separate concerns that they may heighten the risk of other problems too, including kidney disease and serious infections. This latest study adds to growing calls for both patients and doctors to use PPIs only when needed and to avoid them otherwise.