Taking popular heartburn drugs for prolonged periods 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), which are sold under the brand names Prevacid, Prilosec, Nexium and Protonix, among others.
In a study from Washington University in St. Louis, researchers found more than half of patients who develop chronic kidney damage while taking the drugs don’t experience acute kidney problems beforehand, meaning patients may not be aware of a decline in kidney function.
They examined the use of PPIs in 125,000 patients.
Over five years of follow-up, the researchers found that more than 80 percent of PPI users did not develop acute kidney problems, which often are 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 linked to PPI use occurred in people without acute kidney problems.
The team says 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.
The 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.
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.
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The study is published in Kidney International. One author of the study is Ziyad Al-Aly, MD.
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