Many heartburn (acid reflux) medications are proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). New research studies show that heartburn medications, such as Prilosec, Nexium and Prevacid can increase your risk for fractures. The FDA warns that OTC (over-the-counter) PPIs shouldn’t be taken more than 14 days at a time for heartburn, and a 14 day regimen of the medication should not be repeated more than 3 times in a year’s time.
The FDA is going to require that the makers of PPIs to carry warnings for increased fracture risks on people taking these medications. Likewise, the FDA has also suggested that consumers discontinue taking these heartburn medications until they have been told by their doctors that it is safe to take them.
Many people suffer daily with acid reflux, and take the OTC brands with or without their physician’s knowledge. Many don’t get relief from one tablet or capsule and take two daily. This can be serious in more ways than one. Besides being at risk for fractures, the individuals taking large doses of PPIs run the risk of making their heartburn worse.
How proton pump inhibitors work
We have pumps in our stomach and duodenum which secrete stomach acid. PPIs block the production of stomach acid. These types of drugs turn off the acid pumps, thereby reducing of stomach acid into the esophagus. PPIs are often prescribed by doctors to decrease the secretion of stomach acid as a form of treatment for stomach acids and acid reflux. The problem with PPIs is that they are often overused. The overuse of medications like Nexium, Aciphex, Prilosec and Prevacid can create more discomfort from heartburn.
Do PPIs increase the risk for bone fractures?
Researchers believe that people who take PPIs are at risk for bone fractures. It’s not the medication that causes the fractures, but it is the lack of stomach acid that is believed to be connected to increased risk of fractures. Our stomach acid does more than aid in digestion; the acids also protect us from pathogens. A decreased amount of stomach acid can interfere with calcium absorption, which weakens the bones. When the matrix of bone is compromised by decreased amounts of calcium, individuals could be at risk for fractures.
Who is at risk for bone fractures?
Oftentimes, elderly individuals have stomach problems that are treated with either prescription or over-the-counter PPI preparations. Elderly people are much more vulnerable to hip and wrist fractures, due to falls. Someone with strong bones would be less likely to suffer from fractures, if they should fall.
The risk of fractures increases in postmenopausal women who regularly take PPI medications. Individuals taking PPI medications should use a lower dose. Studies indicate that lower doses of PPIs are just as effective as the higher does; in other words, higher does won’t relieve the discomfort of heartburn any more effectively than the lower dose would.
Physicians are advised to exercise great caution when they prescribe PPI medications to their patients. Every year pharmacies fill more than 113 million prescriptions. Even if the doctors do exercise caution in prescribing PPIs, if a person thinks they have heartburn, he/she is likely to go to the nearest drug store and pick a box of the medication off the shelf to self-medicate. Thus, the individual could be causing a vicious cycle of heartburn, because if there isn’t enough stomach acid being produced, the individual is very likely to feel discomfort in the epigastric region that feels exactly like acid reflux. All too often, people self-medicate with PPIs unnecessarily.