Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier
WebMD

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine
WebMD

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion
    WebMD

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community
    WebMD

    Community

    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Heartburn/GERD Health Center

Font Size
A
A
A

Are Acid Reflux Drugs Overused?

Studies Suggest Many People Taking Them Don't Need Them and May Be Putting Their Health at Risk

People Like PPIs Because They Work continued...

What's the harm?

Plenty. "If you take them indiscriminately, you reduce the benefit-to-risk ratio," Romero says.

Published studies have linked PPIs to an increased risk of potentially deadly diarrhea caused by the bug Clostridium difficile, or C. diff. There's also a slightly increased risk of fracture in some risk women taking PPIs at high doses and/or for extended periods of time.

Several studies have shown that people who take a PPI may be more likely to catch pneumonia. Suppression of stomach acid may also reduce the body’s ability to absorb calcium and magnesium, Romero says.

And they’re not cheap, she adds. A year's supply of over-the-counter Prevacid 24HR costs about $200. If you're prescribed a more expensive PPI, the annual price tag could be 10 times higher or more.

When to Take -- and Not Take -- PPIs

The bottom line: "We have to educate patients and doctors on when and how to use PPIs," she says.

That means prescribing them only for serious conditions that occur when stomach acid escapes into the esophagus -- reflux disease and Barrett's esophagus, for example, Romero says. They're also used to prevent and treat ulcers in the small intestine and the stomach, among other conditions.

When PPIs are used, she advises doctors to use shorter courses and lower doses when possible. And just because they’re available at the local store, people shouldn't start popping the pills without telling their doctors.

"We also need to train doctors so they know it's OK to stop a PPI after it's started. Just because it’s good for them in the intensive care unit doesn’t mean they have to stay on it," Romero says.

Doctors and patients should consider other treatments for heartburn, including non-drug treatments such as stress reduction, weight loss, and smoking cessation, she says.

PPIs: the Studies

Among the new research presented at the meeting:

  • In Smith's study, 204 of 358 patients (60%) were prescribed a PPI while in the hospital. The most common reason cited for prescribing a PPI was that patients were already on a PPI prior to admission.

Today on WebMD

Woman eating pizza
How it starts, and how to stop it.
man with indigestion
Get lifestyle and diet tips.
 
woman shopping for heartburn relief
Medication options.
man with heartburn
Symptoms of both.
 
digestive health
Slideshow
Heartburn or Heart Attack
Article
 
heartburn
Article
Top 10 Heartburn Foods
Video
 
Is it Heartburn or Gerd
Video
digestive myths
Slideshow
 
Extreme Eats
Slideshow
graphic of esophageal area
Article