Heartburn medications linked to early death

20 percent of people in the U.S. suffer from symptoms of heartburn or acid reflux.

A variety of over the counter medications are available to treat symptoms of heartburn. Medications include acid neutralizers (Tums/Mylanta) and acid blockers. There are two types of acid blockers, H2 blockers (Tagamet/Pepcid), and proton pump inhibitors (Prevacid/Prilosec.). A new study published in the British Medical Journal Open, found an association between proton pump inhibitors or PPIs an increased risk of death.

Researchers from Washington University School of Medicine conducted the study. The medical records of over 350,000 US Veterans were evaluated between 2006 and 2008.

Patients prescribed either PPIs or H2 blockers were followed for about five and half years. Patients treated with PPIs had an increased risk of death of 25% compared to patients treated with an H2 blocker. The risk of death went up the longer a patient was treated with a PPI.

It is important to note the cause of death was not identified in the study. In addition the study showed an association not a cause and effect. Patient's treated with PPIs in the study were slightly older and suffered from more significant co-morbidities.

The study involved only prescription use PPIs not over the counter use.

Many patients require PPIs. If you take a proton pump inhibitor do not stop using the medication without speaking to your doctor. However, as with all medications, if you take a PPI it is important to talk with your health care provider about length of treatment and possible alternatives.

Many people who suffer from acid reflux or heartburn can significantly improve their symptoms by making a few lifestyle changes. Weight loss is known to decrease symptoms. If you smoke quit smoking. Many foods trigger symptoms of heartburn including spicy and oily foods. Do not eat right before bed and elevate the head of the bed to reduce symptoms. Portion control can also help.

More information can be found here.