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Stomach Acid Drugs May Raise Pneumonia Risk

Risk From Acid-Suppressing Drugs Greatest in Frailest Patients

How Acid-Suppressing Drugs Promote Infection continued...

Though the Laheij study strongly suggests a link between regular use of acid-suppressing drugs and pneumonia, it does not offer definitive proof. Still, all of the experts who spoke with WebMD urge people to take the drugs only as needed.

In an editorial accompanying the Laheij study, James C. Gregor, MD, warns that even the safest-seeming drugs can have serious side effects.

"These acid-suppressing drugs have an incredible track record of safety. In fact, of almost every bad thing people said could happen when these drugs first were developed, virtually none have happened," Gregor tells WebMD. "These drugs are very useful in the right situation, not only to improve symptoms but to heal disease and to prevent complications. But when used inappropriately, in the wrong situation -- such as a replacement for a healthier lifestyle -- people may be subjecting themselves to risk with no known benefit."

Gregor says many doctors are prescribing nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, Motrin, and Aleve, to relieve arthritis pain. But because these drugs have a small risk of causing stomach ulcers, doctors are prescribing acid-suppressing drugs with them.

"The risk of pneumonia from a PPI is almost identical to the risk of bleeding from an NSAID," Gregor says. "We will probably in the next few months see people switched to chronic PPI use to protect them from NSAID bleeding. Maybe we'll be trading the risk of a bleed for risk of pneumonia."

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