June 24, 2019

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The Many Risks of Proton Pump Inhibitors

There are plenty of heartburn medications on the market including Prilosec, Prevacid, Nexium and AcipHex. Common wisdom is that any medication that is sold over-the-counter (OTC) must be at least minimally safe. Sadly, that is not the case with many heartburn medicines, as they have been linked to potentially life-ending diseases.

How Do PPIs Work?

To begin with, PPIs work differently than other antacids. Whereas antacids work by neutralizing stomach acid, PPIs reduce the amount of acid the stomach produces by inhibiting the proton potassium pumps, which are located in the stomach’s parietal cells. Parietal cells exist in the lining of the stomach and secrete hydrochloric acid. The ultimate purpose of PPIs is to treat gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), also known as acid reflux.

Why Are They Risky?

Sadly, PPIs were wreaking havoc on the public for about 20 years before the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finally decided to introduce a warning label in 2014. According to the FDA, OTC PPIs should be used for no more than two weeks at a time. And during the course of a year, there should be no more than three two-week periods during which the drugs are taken. But why should people be so careful? Well, over the years, experts have found PPIs to be related to conditions such as:

  • Acute interstitial nephritis
  • Acute kidney disease
  • Acute kidney failure
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Chronic kidney failure
  • Kidney dialysis
  • Kidney transplants
  • Death

In a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, scientists found that, of the older patients involved, “those who started PPI therapy had an increased risk of acute kidney injury and acute interstitial nephritis.” And in a study published by the JAMA Network, PPIs were found to be “associated with a higher risk of incident CKD.” The paper suggested that “Future research should evaluate whether limiting PPI use reduces the incidence of CKD.” According to Kenneth DeVault, MD, “This is an important study because millions of Americans are on proton pump inhibitors and have been for many years.” In a study done last year, German scientists found that PPI usage is linked to dementia (not listed above). In fact, those who have used PPIs have a 44 percent greater chance of getting dementia than those who have not used the drug.

We could go on for quite some time listing studies related to the side effects of PPIs.

Lack of Awareness

According to recent survey, 86 percent of Americans are unaware that there is a link between heartburn and esophageal cancer. The Esophageal Cancer Action Network (ECAN), who conducted the survey, filed a petition on May 1st of this year to the FDA asking the agency to add a label to PPIs clarifying that heartburn medicine may eliminate symptoms but do not cancel out the potential danger of developing cancer. That’s one more risk added to the list.


Approximately 15 million Americans use PPIs. And many, like Marcella Lafayette, suffer from a magnesium deficiency and can’t seem to get off the drug because halting usage can result in stomach pain.  Of course, over the years, many lawsuits have been filed due to the disastrous side effects of OTC PPIs. Because of the increase in the number of product liability suits against pharmaceutical companies that produce the drug, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPMDL) filed a motion to consolidate similar cases. Such consolidation would mean streamlining certain aspects of the court proceedings such as the process of discovery.

If you or someone you know has been affected by OTC PPIs, you may want to seek legal counsel. An experienced defective drug attorney can help you decide on the right course of action in your situation.

About Sean Lally

Sean Lally holds a BA in Philosophy from Temple University where he also studied theatre for several years. Between 2007 and 2017, he worked as a professional actor for several regional theater companies in Philadelphia, including the Arden Theatre Co., EgoPo Productions, Lantern Theater and the Bearded Ladies. In 2010, Sean co-founded Found Theater Company, an avant-garde artist collective with whom he first started to cultivate an identity as a writer.

Over the past few years, Sean has been working as a content writer, focusing primarily on the ways in which unequal power distribution can negatively affect consumers, workers and “everyday people,” more broadly. He writes for a number of websites including AccidentAttorneys.org, PersonalInjury.com, AmericanLegalNews.com and others.