Taking popular heartburn drugs for a long time has been linked to serious kidney problems, including kidney failure.
The sudden onset of kidney problems often serves as a red flag for doctors to discontinue their patients’ use of so-called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs).
PPIs are sold under the brand names Prevacid, Prilosec, Nexiu, and Protonix, among others.
In a recent study from Washington University, researchers evaluated the use of PPIs in 125,000 patients.
They indicate that more than half of patients who develop chronic kidney damage while taking the drugs don’t experience acute kidney problems beforehand.
This means patients may not be aware of a decline in kidney function.
Therefore, people who take PPIs, and their doctors, should be more vigilant in monitoring the use of these medications.
in the study, the researchers analyzed data from the Department of Veterans Affairs databases on 125,596 new users of PPIs and 18,436 new users of other heartburn drugs referred to as H2 blockers.
The latter is much less likely to cause kidney problems but often aren’t as effective.
Over five years of follow up, the researchers found that more than 80 percent of PPI users did not develop acute kidney problems.
These are often reversible and are characterized by too little urine leaving the body, fatigue, and swelling in the legs and ankles.
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.
In contrast, among new users of H2 blockers, 7.67% developed chronic kidney disease in the absence of acute kidney problems, and 1.27% developed the end-stage renal disease.
The end-stage renal disease occurs when the kidneys can no longer effectively remove waste from the body. In such cases, dialysis or a kidney transplant is needed to keep patients alive.
The researchers suggest the onset of acute kidney problems is not a reliable warning sign for clinicians to detect a decline in kidney function among patients taking PPIs.
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.
Currently, more than 15 million Americans suffering from heartburn, ulcers, and acid reflux have prescriptions for PPIs, which bring relief by reducing gastric acid.
Many millions more purchase the drugs over-the-counter and take them without being under a doctor’s care.
Doctors should pay careful attention to kidney function in their patients who use PPIs, even when there are no signs of problems.
The study is published in Kidney International.
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Source: Kidney International.