Heartburn, Acid Reflux, and Proton Pump Inhibitor Drugs

Nearly 50 percent of Americans suffer from heartburn or acid reflux, a digestive disease in which stomach acid irritates the lining of the esophagus, and many turn to proton pump inhibitor medications like Nexium, Prilosec or Prevacid to block acid production in the stomach and relieve their symptoms of heartburn or acid reflux. As effective as these medications are though, they also carry a risk of serious health complications, like dementia, heart attack and kidney failure, and many people take them for far too long, which can result in drug dependence and other long-lasting side effects. If you believe you have been harmed by side effects of Nexium, Prilosec or another popular heartburn drug, contact a reputable drug injury lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your legal options.

What Causes Heartburn and Acid Reflux?

When the food you eat passes through the esophagus into the stomach, a valve called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) closes, preventing food or acid from moving back up the esophagus. Acid reflux occurs when the LES fails to perform its proper function, allowing stomach acid to flow backward into the esophagus. The most common symptom of acid reflux is heartburn, a burning sensation that begins behind the breastbone and sometimes travels up the throat. Acid reflux is thought to be caused by excessive amounts of acid in the stomach, which is why acid-blocking drugs like Prilosec and Nexium are so widely used, when, in reality, the condition typically results from having too little acid in the stomach. This common misconception has resulted in proton pump inhibitor (PPI) medications like Nexium, Prilosec and Prevacid being overprescribed, possibly to the detriment of users.

How Do PPI Drugs Work?

Proton pump inhibitors are a group of prescription and over-the-counter drugs whose main purpose is to provide long-lasting reduction of gastric acid production, in order to treat heartburn, acid reflux or a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Stomach acid is produced by the body to help with the digestion of food and to kill bacteria, and because the acid is corrosive, the body also produces a mucus barrier that protects the lining of the stomach from being eroded by the acid. In some people, this barrier may have broken down, allowing the acid to damage the stomach, or there may be a problem with the valve at the top of the stomach that prevents gastric acid from escaping and damaging the esophagus.

PPIs work by preventing the cells in the lining of the stomach from producing too much acid, which can help prevent ulcers from forming and reduce heartburn and other acid reflux-related symptoms caused by stomach acid traveling up the esophagus. They are called proton pump inhibitors because they function by blocking a chemical system in the stomach called the hydrogen-potassium adenosine triphosphatase enzyme system, otherwise known as the proton pump. PPIs are the most potent acid-blocking medications available, and are also among the most widely-sold drugs in the world. The most popular proton pump inhibitor drugs include:

  • Nexium
  • Prilosec
  • Prevacid
  • Kapidex
  • Dexilant
  • Protonix
  • Zegerid
  • AcipHex

Why Heartburn Drugs Can Do More Harm Than Good

Based on research dating back to the early 1980s, experts in the medical field have come to believe that acid reflux is not caused by excessive production of acid in the stomach; rather, that it’s a symptom more commonly associated with either a hiatal hernia or a Helicobacter pylori infection, underlying conditions that can result in an unnecessary prescription of PPI therapy. H. pylori bacteria is thought to affect more than half of the world’s population, and can cause a chronic low-level inflammation of the stomach lining that can result in an ulcer and other symptoms similar to acid reflux. Heartburn and other acid-reflux-like symptoms can also be caused by side effects of certain prescription and over-the-counter medications, like antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, pain relievers, blood pressure medications and antibiotics.

When individuals with heartburn or acid reflux caused by an underlying medical condition or pharmaceutical drug side effects are prescribed a proton pump inhibitor to block the production of acid in the stomach, the results can be devastating. There are currently more than 16,000 studies and articles published in medical journals showing that, while suppressing stomach acid may temporarily relieve the symptoms of acid reflux and heartburn, it does not address the underlying problem. In fact, according to Mitchell Katz, director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, “about 60 to 70 percent of people taking these [PPI] drugs have mild heartburn and shouldn’t be on them.”

Possible Side Effects of Proton Pump Inhibitors

Part of the problem here, is that when proton pump inhibitors block the production of stomach acid, they also limit the body’s ability to kill the helicobacter bacteria, which can make the condition worse. Furthermore, reducing the amount of acid in the stomach affects the body’s primary defense mechanism for food-borne infections, which can increase the risk of food poisoning. Other possible side effects of proton pump inhibitors include:

  • Kidney damage
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Bone fractures
  • Dementia
  • Heart attack
  • Kidney failure
  • Wrongful death

Some people may even develop a dependence on proton pump inhibitor medications like Nexium, Prilosec or Prevacid, or experience worsening symptoms of heartburn or acid reflux after stopping PPI therapy, in which case they may need to gradually wean themselves off the drug and make lifestyle changes that eliminate the underlying medical condition once and for all.

What to Do if You’ve Been Harmed by PPI Side Effects

The potential side effects of proton pump inhibitor drugs can be devastating and possibly even life-threatening, yet thousands of Americans take Nexium, Prilosec, Prevacid and other PPIs for long periods of time, unaware that the medications may put them at risk for kidney failure, bone fractures, dementia, and other serious health problems. If you used Nexium or another acid reflux drug in the past, and you have since been diagnosed with dementia, kidney failure, or another major side effect, consult an experienced product liability lawyer today for legal help. With a qualified PPI injury attorney on your side, you can protect your legal rights and may be able to file a Nexium or Prilosec Lawsuit to pursue the financial compensation you deserve for your injuries and medical expenses.