Common medications used to neutralize stomach acid in people with heartburn or stomach ulcers increase the risk of pneumonia in older people, says a study from the U.K.’s University of Exeter Medical School. These medications are protein-pump inhibitors, or PPIs, and include the popular drugs Prilosec, Nexium, and Prevacid.
According to experts, approximately 40 percent of older adults receive PPIs, although up to 85 percent of people who receive them as prescriptions — PPIs are also sold without a prescription — may not need them.
The Exeter team examined statistical links between long-term PPI use and pneumonia in older adults in medical records. They found that seniors who took PPIs over a two-year period had a higher rate of pneumonia.
“Our study adds to growing evidence that PPIs are not quite as safe as previously thought, although they are still a very useful class of medication for certain groups of patients,” said David Melzer, Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health at the University of Exeter Medical School.
Researchers warn that people should not stop using their PPI medication, but should discuss whether the PPIs are still needed with their physician. Stopping PPIs without consulting with a healthcare professional could be dangerous as PPIs are very useful, for example for helping preventing stomach bleeding in some patients.
The study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
About 60 million Americans report they have heartburn at least once a month and as many as 15 million experience symptoms once a day, according to the American College of Gastroenterology.
Many recent studies show that proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), which are commonly prescribed to fight heartburn and acid reflux, increase the risk of heart attacks, cancer, fractures, and kidney damage.
A 2017 study published in the journal Gut found that PPIs increase the risk of kidney cancer up to eight times, especially for those who have a prior H. pylori infection. The risk was directly related to how long the drugs were taken, and researchers said that doctors should exercise caution when prescribing PPIs for long-term use.
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