Common Heartburn Drugs Linked with Kidney Disease

The headline above is from a January 11, 2016, CBS News story reporting the research link between acid reflux medications and kidney disease. The original research was published in the February 2016 edition of JAMA Internal Medicine.

In the original study, more than 10,000 people who were taking part in a national study on hardening of the arteries were reviewed to see the rate of kidney disease in those taking heartburn drugs versus those who did not. The results showed that in two different trials those taking the drugs had a 20% to 50% higher risk of chronic kidney disease compared with those who did not take the drug.

Proton-pump inhibitors, or PPI, are one of the most common types of medications used by Americans today. It is estimated that 15 million people take these drugs . These drugs include such popular brand names as Prilosec, Nexium and Prevacid which are used to treat heartburn by lowering the production of stomach acid.

In numerous news reports on this study, Dr. Morgan Grams, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health who led the research commented, “There appears to be mounting observational evidence that PPIs – historically a class thought to be extremely safe – have some adverse effects.” Dr. Grams also stated, “We found there was an increasing risk associated with an increasing dose. That suggests that perhaps this observed effect is real.”

In a NY Times Health section article on the research, Dr. Todd Semla, a pharmacist at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, and past president of the American Geriatrics Society commented, “I don’t see Larry the Cable Guy saying, ‘If you take this drug often, your kidneys may be affected or you could break a hip.'”

The study authors point out that 70% of the prescriptions for these drugs were given out inappropriately. They also note that 25 % of those taking these drugs long-term could stop taking the medication without noticing an increase in heartburn or acid reflux.

Dr. Adam Schoenfeld of the University of California wrote an editorial in JAMA on this issue and was quoted in the Huffington Post. The Post article quoted him, “Doctors must weigh the risks and benefits before recommending PPIs and this study adds chronic kidney disease to the risk of rare, but serious side effects associated with PPI use.”

Schoenfeld also pointed out that many people with indigestion and heartburn do not need the medications. He suggested lifestyle changes such as proper diet and exercise, which he points out are just as effective than the drugs.

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