Long-Term Use of Heartburn Drugs May Increase Stomach Bug Risk

People who take proton pump inhibitor (PPI) medication might be at an extremely high risk for developing the stomach flu, according to a new study.  Analyzing data from 900,000 people determined an 80 percent increased risk for catching the bug. Researchers say that prolonged use of these drugs might discourage the body from producing enough acid that would typically fight off infections and conditions like acute gastroenteritis.  

According to Women’s College Hospital scientist Dr. Mina Tadrous, “Very few people need to be on PPIs long term, but people do end up on them chronically.  And now we’re finding that the drugs are not as safe as we thought. They interact with a bunch of drugs. There are some nutritional concerns. There’s an increased risk of fracture and an increased risk of infection.”

PPIs are most often prescribed to treat heartburn, and are now widely available over the counter.  

Dr. Arun Swaminath is the director of inflammatory bowel disease program at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.  He points out that researchers have diagnosed someone with acute gastroenteritis if they had received a prescription for medications intended to treat the condition.  But these medications can be used in the treatment of other issues.

He notes, for example, PPIs are widely available—over the counter—in France.  “Assuming all patients who didn’t have a prescription for these medications weren’t exposed to PPI can make the magnitude of the association larger than it really is.”

All this in mind, many health experts now advise that everyone should reconsider their use of PPI therapy if it is not a clearly necessary treatment and, instead, opt for lifestyle changes instead.  For one, you can change not only the types of food you eat but also how often and how much you eat.  

It is also important to note that people who tend to need long-term PPI therapy will often be prescribed long-term nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to help prevent ulcers.  In addition, the researchers remind that many patients need long-term PPI therapy, and that includes patients suffering from Barret’s esophagus, chronic ulcer, [hard-to-control] gastresophageal reflux disease (GERD), idiopathic chronic ulcer, severe and esophagitis, Zollinger-Ellison syndrome, as well as some who have bleeding ulcers. 

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