More than 15 million Americans suffering from heartburn, ulcers, and acid reflux have prescriptions for proton pump inhibitors (PPIs).
The drugs can bring relief by reducing gastric acid, and they are sold under brand names such as Prevacid, Prilosec, Nexium, and Protonix.
Many millions more purchase these drugs over-the-counter and take them without being under a doctor’s care.
However, recent research shows that taking PPIs for prolonged periods is linked to serious kidney problems, including kidney failure.
In a recent study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, researchers evaluated the use of PPIs in 125,000 patients.
They find that more than half of patients who develop chronic kidney damage while taking the drugs don’t experience acute kidney problems beforehand.
This is very bad because patients may not be aware of a decline in kidney function.
The researchers suggest that people who take PPIs, and their doctors, should be more vigilant in monitoring the use of these medications.
In the study, the team analyzed data 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 isn’t as effective.
In a 5-year follow up, the researchers found that more than 80% of PPI users did not develop acute kidney problems.
Acute kidney problems often are reversible and the signs include 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 linked to PPI use in people without acute kidney problems.
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 that acute kidney problems are not a strong warning sign for doctors to detect a decline in kidney function in patients taking PPIs.
But the kidney problems can develop silently and gradually over time, damaging kidney function and leading to long-term kidney damage or even renal failure.
Therefore, patients should tell their doctors if they’re taking PPIs and only use the drugs when necessary.
On the other hand, doctors need to 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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