Popular OTC Heartburn, Acid Reflux Medications Linked To Kidney Failure

Whether prescribed by a physician or merely purchased over the counter, long-term use of popular medications for such conditions as acid reflux, heartburn, and ulcers could lead to kidney failure, a new study shows.


As CNN reports, proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), found in medications currently prescribed to more than 15 million Americans, have been tied to increased risk of kidney disease and kidney failure. The complete list of ailments that have often been treated with PPIs include acid reflux, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), heartburn, and ulcers. Popular over the counter PPIs include Prilosec OTC and Prevacid. Prescription PPIs include omeprazole and lansoprazole, available in generic and brand-name form (such as Nexium or Zegerid).

PPIs vs. Antacids

It should be noted that there is a difference between proton pump inhibitors and antacids. As reported by Medical News Today, excess acid is reduced by antacids when the acid has already been produced in the stomach. PPIs, on the other hand, are supposed to help reduce the acid produced by the stomach lining.

The study shows the possible long-term side effects of using PPIs specifically, not antacids.

The study

The study — the results of which were published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology on Thursday — shows the results of nearly 200,000 patients who were treated for these ailments five years prior. The data was taken from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, looking at 173,321 patients that used PPIs compared to 20,270 patients that were given histamine H2 receptor blockers instead. The authors of the study are from the VA St. Louis Health Care System (Clinical Epidemiology Center) and Washington University, also in St. Louis.


The data that the authors analyzed details that those patients using PPIs have more problems related to their kidneys than the patients that were given the H2 alternative. Specifically, those using PPIs were 96 percent more likely to develop kidney failure and 28 percent more likely to suffer chronic kidney disease.

It should also be noted that the findings of this study are purely observational. At this time, there is no evidence that proves a causal relationship between PPIs and kidney disease.

Further evidence

This is not the first published study related to PPIs and the long-term effect it may have on the user’s kidneys. As noted by CBS News, research coming out of John Hopkins University points towards the link between PPI usage and kidney damage. That study was published in the The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) on January 11 of this year.


As with the study published on Thursday, the findings of the John Hopkins research is purely observational — there is no concrete proof that long-term usage of PPIs to treat GERD or chronic ulcers leads directly to kidney damage or kidney failure. However, the implications should not be ignored.

The John Hopkins research showed PPI users are at a 20-50 percent increased risk of chronic kidney disease as opposed to non-users. Dr. Morgan Grams (lead author of the JHU findings published in JAMA) pronounced the following warning, prior to the evidence published this week.

“There was an increasing risk associated with an increasing dose. That suggests that perhaps this observed effect is real.”

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