Dr. Roy Patankar, leading Gastroenterologist & Director of Zen Hospital shares why taking heartburn drugs for a prolonged period of time is a strict no-no. Read on to know more.

Do you have that burning sensation in the chest or sour taste in the mouth? Are you worried due to the constant stomach pain? Do you feel heavy after having your meal? You must be taking heartburn medications called proton pump inhibitors (P.P.I.s) prescribed by the doctor right? But, do you know that these drugs can cause serious complications. Yes, you have heard it right! You will be shocked to know that using P.P.I.s for more than a year is linked to chronic kidney disease. Hence, it is the need of the hour to deal with acidity with the help of lifestyle modifications or surgery to prevent the reflux. These drugs are generally safe for short term usage.

Nowadays, one of the commonest health problems which people suffer from is acidity. Acidity (acid reflux) also known as heartburn, acid indigestion or pyrosis tends to rob your peace. It occurs when some of the acids in the stomach go back up into the esophagus due to which one may encounter burning pain in the lower chest area after eating. Burning sensation in chest, stomach, and throat, sour taste in the mouth, vomiting, nausea, frequent burping or hiccups, upper abdominal discomfort, and post-meal heaviness are some of the symptoms of acidity. 

The causes of it can be attributed to the faulty lifestyle that is skipping meals or irregular eating habits, overeating, eating just before hitting the sack, consuming spicy food, opting for a diet low in fiber, stress, drinking too much alcohol, smoking and lack of physical activity. Thus, your doctor may prescribe you an antacid that contains calcium, magnesium, and aluminum or proton pump inhibitors (P.P.I.s) that reduce the production of acid by blocking the enzyme in the wall of the stomach that produces acid. Do you know that taking heartburn drugs for a prolonged period of time is a strict no-no? This is so because they can raise the risk of many health problems.

Know why taking heartburn drugs is harmful to your health:

When it comes to heartburn medications, going overboard is not advisable as long-term usage of P.P.I can lead to the development of chronic kidney disease, which is more serious.  It means that their kidneys can no longer filter blood effectively, which can cause kidney failure. Those patients will need dialysis. Even borderline kidney disease patients should avoid taking heartburn drugs in the long run.  

Not only this, if PPIs are regularly used over a year then it can also cause osteoporosis (that tends to occur when bone density decreases. This affects the structure and strength of bones and makes fractures more likely). Furthermore, this can lead to hip fractures in elderly people as it blocks the absorption of calcium and iron in the stomach. Thus, these patients are more prone to calcium and iron deficiency.

Those patients admitted in the ICU who are prescribed PPI, acid has a protective role whenever food containing bacteria is consumed then the acid in the stomach is breaking it down so constantly that it suppresses acid in the stomach that is harmful and one may have a higher chance of suffering from intestinal problem or pneumonia. 

Not only can this, taking P.P.I for a longer period of time lead to magnesium deficiency. Hence, the patients who suffer from cardiac disease particularly who have arrhythmia, (the heart beats too fast, too slowly, or with an irregular rhythm), they tend to take an antiarrhythmic drug. So, if a patient with arrhythmia is admitted to the ICU, the first thing suspected is the drop in magnesium level because of the anti acidity medications. And a lack of this important mineral could damage the kidneys. These medications are often abused by people as they take it continuously for the years. Some medications may also interfere with the absorption of blood thinners. So, if stroke patients taking blood thinners also take anti acidity medications then it may not be safe for them as their blood may not become thin. While taking heartburn medications, make sure that your iron, calcium levels and the functioning of the kidney is normal. 

Here are the other options apart from PPI’s

Your doctor may also advise you to opt for an endoscopy, anti-reflux surgery (that is a treatment for acid reflux). Thus, you should consult an expert and discuss what works best for you.  Along with these options, lifestyle changes can also help you get back on track. You can quit smoking, and limit your alcohol consumption, exercise regularly, eat a well-balanced diet, maintain a healthy weight, avoid spicy or greasy food, chocolate, mint, and coffee. Say NO to carbonated drinks, avoid other foods such as onion or citrus foods that tend to trigger acidity and opt for stress-busting activities. Speak to your expert about the foods that you should eat and delete. Make sure you adhere to the healthy lifestyle modifications and also avoid medications that cause acidity.

A word of caution: The higher the dose or the more often the drugs are taken then it is more likely that you may develop kidney disease. Do not self-medicate as doing so can be risky for you. If you are using P.P.Is on a regular basis then speak to your doctor whether you really need them. If you do not need them then don’t take them. Antacids can be taken but not for a longer period of time (for around 6 months). 

Dr. Roy Patankar, leading Gastroenterologist & Director of Zen Hospital.

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