Study: Popular Heartburn Drugs May Be ‘Silently’ Harming Body

ST. LOUIS — Popular heartburn drugs take a silent toll upon an individual’s kidney health, a new study finds.

The study was conducted by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis and published this month in Kidney International.

A new study finds popular heartburn medications can cause severe damage to kidneys — and users may have no idea.

More than 15 million Americans who suffer from heartburn, ulcers, and acid reflux are prescribed proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs. That number doesn’t include those who buy the meds over the counter. Popular brands include Prevacid, Nexium, and Prilosec.

Prior studies have shown that taking PPIs for extended periods of time are linked to serious kidney damage. However, researchers and doctors behind this new study are warning that when it comes to these cases, patients may have no idea they’re suffering from any kidney issues, and thus their medical providers ought to be thoroughly attentive

“The onset of acute kidney problems is not a reliable warning sign for clinicians to detect a decline in kidney function among patients taking proton pump inhibitors,” Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, the study’s author and assistant professor at the university’s school of medicine, said in a school elease. “Our results indicate kidney problems can develop silently and gradually over time, eroding kidney function and leading to long term damage, or even renal failure”.

The team of researchers reviewed databases of the Department of Veteran Affairs. They applied their analysis on 125,596 PPI users, and 18,436 users of H2 blockers, another form of heartburn remedy.

The study recognized that 80 percent of patients that use PPIs did not develop acute kidney problems. However, they found more than half of the patients with chronic kidney damage or end-stage renal disease resulting from PPIs, never experienced acute kidney problems — as opposed to only 8 percent of those who used H2 blockers.

Bottom line: Ziyad Al-Aly emphasizes that PPIs should be used only if truly needed, and patients must be closely monitored.

“Doctors must pay careful attention to kidney function in their patients who use PPIs, even when there are no signs of problems,” he says. “In general, we always advise clinicians to evaluate whether PPI use is medically necessary in the first place because the drugs carry significant risks, including a deterioration of kidney function”.