Long term use of heartburn drugs proton pump inhibitors increase early death risk

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Scientists have established a link between long term use of heartburn drugs called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and increase in early death risk.

In a study published in the journal BMJ Open, scientists pointed out that million of people in the US alone take proton pump inhibitors to treat heartburn, ulcers and other gastrointestinal problems. In their study involving records of some 275,000 users of PPIs scientists found that PPIs led to increase in risk of death.

Scientists point out that patients taking PPIs had a 50 percent increased risk of dying over the next five years as compared to patients who took another class of drugs called the H2 blockers. Scientists point out that ready availability of PPIs has led everyone to believe that they are safe, but it turns out that’s not the case and there are real risks to taking these drugs, particularly for long periods of time.

Previous studies have linked PPIs to serious kidney damage, bone fractures and dementia. With each of these factors carrying a small risk of death, scientists decided to analyse how much of a combined effect they may have on mortality rate of PPI users.

To find out, the researchers sifted through millions of de-identified veterans’ medical records in a database maintained by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. They identified 275,933 people who had been prescribed a PPI and 73,355 people prescribed an H2 blocker between October 2006 and September 2008, and noted how many died and when over the following five years. The database did not include information on cause of death.

Research found a 25 per cent increased risk of death in the PPI group compared with the H2 blocker group. The researchers calculate that, for every 500 people taking PPIs for a year, there is one extra death that would not have otherwise occurred. Given the millions of people who take PPIs regularly, this could translate into thousands of excess deaths every year, Al-Aly said.

The researchers also calculated the risk of death in people who were prescribed PPIs or H2 blockers despite not having the gastrointestinal conditions for which the drugs are recommended. Here, the researchers found that people who took PPIs had a 24 percent increased risk of death compared with people taking H2 blockers.

Further, the risk rose steadily the longer people used the drugs. After 30 days, the risk of death in the PPI and H2 blocker groups was not significantly different, but among people taking the drugs for one to two years, the risk to PPI users was nearly 50 percent higher than that of H2 blocker users.

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