Assess Your Medicine: How Long is Too Long?

Before you reach for that bottle of Nexium, Prilosec or Prevacid to control your acid reflux, take a moment to pause. When is the last time you read the warning label on the bottle?

Past research has linked proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) to significant health concerns such as vitamin deficiencies, cardiovascular disease, kidney failure, dementia, and increased risk of bone disease. Although the FDA has required drug manufacturers to strengthen warnings on their labels, many Americans are unaware of the potential dangers of this medication.

Between 42 and 64 million Americans suffer from acid reflux. Common symptoms of acid reflux include:

  • burning sensation in the chest and throat
  • chronic cough
  • difficulty swallowing

This is because the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) - the valve between your stomach and your esophagus that carries your food from your mouth to your stomach - is not closing properly and is allowing the contents of your stomach to move back up towards your mouth. When the LES is malfunctioning, food, liquids and digestive acids seep back into the esophagus and cause pain and discomfort.

Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are effective in controlling acid reflux because they block the gastric acid-producing enzyme system in the stomach wall. The reduction of acid in the stomach prevents ulcer formation and can promote healing in the digestive tract. This may sound like a permanent solution, but PPIs are only treating the symptoms and not the cause of acid reflux. Because PPIs can interact with other medications and metabolize differently, they should only be used for a maximum of 14 days before consulting your doctor.

Here is a list of some common PPIs and their generic counterparts:

  • Aciphex (rabeprazole)
  • Dexilant (dexlansoprazole)
  • Nexium (esomeprazole)
  • Prevacid (lansoprazole)
  • Prilosec (omeprazole)
  • Protonix (pantoprazole)

Now that PPIs can be purchased without a prescription, there are millions of Americans who rely on PPIs for long-term heartburn relief. Over-the-counter PPIs are inexpensive, effective and convenient, but they are not a permanent solution. Chronic acid reflux requires a doctor’s supervision. Your doctor can evaluate your symptoms and explain the potential side effects of long-term use of PPIs. Routine follow-ups may reveal the need for further testing to determine whether you have an underlying digestive issue that is causing persistent heartburn. It may be that you need an upper endoscopy so your doctor can view your esophagus, stomach and digestive tract.

PPIs are extremely effective in reducing the production of stomach acid, but overusing PPIs can be dangerous to your health. Relying on these medications will not solve the underlying issues that are causing your discomfort. Scheduling an appointment with your doctor is the best solution to find the root cause of your heartburn and put out that fire once and for all.

Just like a Band-Aid won’t heal a broken leg, PPIs cannot cure acid reflux. Offering fast relief for symptoms of heartburn, PPIs can seem like a miracle drug, but the relief won’t last.

Previous Story Next Story