"For example, when we compared patients taking H2 blockers with those taking PPIs for one to two years, we found those on PPIs had a 50 percent increased risk of dying over the next five years".
Al-Aly, a kidney specialist, called for period re-assessments to see whether people need to keep refilling their prescription. "We don't want to leave people with a scary message".
To conduct the study, researchers combed through medical records of about 275,000 new users of PPI drugs and almost 75,000 people who started another class of drugs, called H2 blockers, to reduce stomach acid.
Short-term use of PPIs - up to 90 days - did not appear to affect death risk, the findings showed.
The study's authors also suggested that regularly reviewing use of prescription and over-the-counter medications could be worthwhile.
In the study detailed in BMJ Open, the team examined medical data from some 275,000 PPI users and nearly 75,000 people who were given H2 blockers, a different category of medicines prescribed for reducing stomach acid.
Some heartburn drugs used by millions of Americans are associated with a higher risk of death, a new study suggests, but people on the drugs should talk with their doctor first before stopping the medicines, experts say.
If about 500 patients took proton-pump inhibitors for a year, there would be one death that may be related to the drug use, explained Al-Aly.
The study only looked at PPIs, and the possible risk does not extend to other indigestion treatments such as antacid treatments which neutralise excess stomach acid.
The risks were particularly strong among people who took the drugs for longer periods.
"This finding is certainly cause for concern and something that should be considered as doctors continue to prescribe PPIs at a high rate and often fail to discontinue these drugs in a timely fashion", said Dr. Louis Cohen.
The study did not prove cause and effect, but the results go along with other research, which has found the drugs, like Prilosec, Nexium and Prevacid, lead to an increased risk of certain health problems.
"Why would prolonged use be associated with higher risk if there were no real relationship between exposure and untoward outcomes?" he said. For example, people with ulcers are advised to take the drugs for only two to eight weeks.
In some cases, addressing the root cause of heartburn, such as by losing weight, reducing alcohol, quitting smoking and making diet changes, can quell or reduce symptoms before jumping to medications, Al-Aly said.
For Al-Aly, it's about weighing the risks and benefits when taking a PPI, as well as getting consistently monitored by a doctor to calculate the need.
"All medications carry benefits and harms", he says. The research is published online July 3 in the journal BMJ Open.
"However, it is important to note that (proton-pump inhibitor) users in general, including those included in their study, are older and have more diseases", Hajjar wrote in an email.
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