Popular heartburn medicines linked to kidney damage

Author urges doctors to exercise caution while treating patients with PPI, a common drug used to treat heartburn

By Rohini Krishnamurthy
Published: Friday 24 February 2017

PPIs  sold in the market under the common brand names Prevacid, Prilosec, Nexium and Protonix can lead to kidney failure
Credit: iStock

Prolonged use of common drugs to treat heartburn can eventually lead to kidney failure, a study published in the journal, Kidney International, says. Heartburn is experienced as a burning sensation in the chest and is caused by acid reflux into the oesophagus.

Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis and the Veterans Affairs St. Louis Health Care System investigated the effects of Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPI) and H2 blockers—two common drugs used to treat heartburn—on a group of people for over five years to understand acute, chronic and end-stage renal diseases. PPIs are sold in the market under the common brand names Prevacid, Prilosec, Nexium and Protonix.

The study evaluated the use of PPIs on approximately 1,25,000 people. Researchers found that more than half of the people diagnosed with chronic kidney diseases did not experience signs of acute kidney problems, meaning people are not aware of a gradual decline in kidney function.

“Our results indicate kidney problems can develop silently and gradually over time, eroding kidney function and leading to long-term kidney damage or even renal failure. Patients should be cautioned to tell their doctors if they’re taking PPIs and only use the drugs when necessary.” said Ziyad Al-Aly, one of the authors and assistant professor of medicine at the Washington University School of Medicine.

Over five years of follow up, researchers found that more than 80 per cent of PPI users did not develop acute kidney problems. However, more than half of the cases of chronic kidney damage and end-stage renal disease associated with PPI use occurred in people without acute kidney problems.

According to research, sudden deterioration in kidney functioning known as Acute Kidney disease is considered to be a risk factor for the development of a more serious long-term Chronic Kidney Disease.

When it comes to H2 blockers, out of 18,436 new users only 7.67 per cent and 1.27 per cent developed chronic and end-stage renal disease respectively. End-stage renal disease occurs when the kidneys can no longer remove waste from the body. In such cases, dialysis or kidney transplant is needed.

Al-Aly has urged doctors to exercise caution while treating patients with PPI. “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.”

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