Heartburn and acid reflux are common in today’s society. Our meals are heavier, we eat quicker and we stress out more. It only makes sense that so many people deal with these issues. Proton pump inhibitors, known as PPIs, are some of the most prescribed drugs in America. These medications are used to treat the most serious cases of acid reflux. For those who suffer with mild heartburn that doesn’t send them to the doctor, many PPIs are available over-the-counter.
Seeking relief from heartburn shouldn’t cause you to put yourself at risk for more serious conditions like stroke, but this is exactly what’s happening. According to research that was presented at an American Heart Association conference in New Orleans, PPIs may increase the risk of ischemic strokes, the most common type of stroke in the country, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The lead author of the study, Dr. Thomas Sehested, said, “PPIs have been associated with unhealthy vascular function, including heart attacks, kidney disease and dementia. We wanted to see if PPIs also posed a risk for ischemic stroke, especially given their increasing use in the general population.”
The study was conducted in Denmark. About 250,000 patients who suffered with heartburn and stomach pain were given one of four PPIs: Nexium, Prilosec, Prevacid or Protonix. Among these patients, the risk of stroke was increased by 21%. Even at the lowest doses, the risk of stroke was elevated. Those taking the highest doses increased their risk of stroke as follows: 33% for those taking Prevacid and Prilosec, 50% for those taking Nexium, and 79% for those patients taking Protonix.
The makers of these drugs were quick to defend themselves. Proctor & Gamble, the company that manufactures Prilosec, said that the drug is “FDA approved, safe and effective remedy to relieve frequent heartburn symptoms. Prilosec OTC has the longest history of safe and effective consumer use of an [over the counter] PPI.”
Takeda, the company that makes Prevacid, said, “Patient safety is a top priority…and we continuously monitor the safety of all our medicines and collaborate with regulatory agencies to ensure this information is reflected in the respective prescribing information.”
Finally, the maker of Nexium, AstraZeneca, said, “Patient safety is an important priority….and we believe all of our PPI medicines are generally safe and effective when used in accordance with the label.” Each of these statements was made to CNN.
Are There Alternatives?
Knowing that they are being put at risk for stroke may have patients taking these drugs to seek alternatives. The good news is that there are other remedies for heartburn that can negate the need for prescription and over-the-counter drugs for some patients.
1. Lose Weight
People who are overweight typically experience more heartburn than those who maintain a healthy weight. Patients who are overweight are advised that losing as little as two and a half pounds can help to alleviate symptoms.
2. Sleep Elevated
When you sleep in the typical manner, your stomach and throat are at the same level. This makes it easier for stomach acid to flow up into your esophagus. Doctors recommend elevating the head of the bed by 4 to 6 inches.
3. Avoid Certain Foods
Many people who have been suffering with heartburn for some time know the foods that trigger their symptoms. These foods should be avoided. Patients who do not yet know which foods trigger symptoms should keep a food journal to help in determining which foods make heartburn worse. Those foods can then be eliminated from the diet.
4. Skip the Dairy
It is an old wives’ tale that milk helps to cure heartburn. The truth is that dairy products often make symptoms worse. Patients who suffer with frequent heartburn are advise to avoid drinking milk or consuming other dairy products on a regular basis.
Heartburn is an uncomfortable symptom of acid reflux. While some patients will be left with no option than to take prescription or over-the-counter PPIs, the use of the drugs may best be avoided if possible. Speak to your doctor and try a few home remedies before you make the determination that a PPI is right for you.
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