Stomach Acid Drugs: 5 Questions to Ask
Ask Your Doctor These Questions About Stomach Acid Drugs
Oct. 26, 2004 -- Warning: The drugs you take to relieve acid reflux or
indigestion may increase your risk of dangerous pneumonia.
Acid reflux (also called heartburn or acid indigestion) is the backward flow
of acid from the stomach into the esophagus. Most people experience a feeling
of burning chest pain behind the breastbone that moves up to the neck and
throat. Sometimes it is described as a sour taste of acid in the back of the
throat that worsens with food.
You don't have to worry if you're relatively healthy and take these drugs
only once in a while. But if you use these drugs a lot -- especially if your
overall health is poor -- it's time to talk with your doctor.
Two different kinds of drugs are involved.
The most powerful stomach acid drugs are called proton-pump inhibitors or
PPIs. These drugs nearly double a user's risk of pneumonia. Proton-pump
Prilosec (called Losec in Europe)
Also under suspicion -- when taken frequently and at higher doses -- are the
H2 receptor antagonists. Users of these medications might increase their risk
of pneumonia by over 50%. These include:
All of these drugs do exactly what they are supposed to do: reduce stomach
acid. The problem is that your body uses stomach acid to kill germs that get
into your stomach. When stomach acid levels get low, germs can get past this
natural line of defense.
The risk of pneumonia isn't high. According to the study, one in 100 people
who took the drugs for a full year would get a lung infection he or she
wouldn't otherwise have had.
5 Questions to Ask Your Doctor
- Do I really need to take these drugs? When should I take them? When should
I stop taking them?
- Are there alternatives to continuous medication? Would it help if I lost
weight or watched my diet?
- Can my acid reflux itself cause pneumonia-like symptoms? How can I tell the
- Do I need to be worried about developing pneumonia? What might increase or
decrease my risk?
- Is there a different drug I could take, or different ways to use the drug
I'm on, that would lessen my risk of pneumonia?