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

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

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

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • 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

Are Acid Reflux Drugs Overused?

Studies Suggest Many People Taking Them Don't Need Them and May Be Putting Their Health at Risk
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Nov. 7, 2011 (Washington, D.C.) -- Many people who take popular antacid pills like Aciphex, Dexilant, Nexium, Prevacid, Prilosec, and Protonix don't need them, according to a series of studies presented here at the American College of Gastroenterology's annual meeting.

Doctors tend to overprescribe the drugs, known as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), for patients in and out of the hospital, the studies find.

"I'm uncomfortable when people who have heartburn start the drugs on their own, or when a health care professional guesses and puts them on the drugs," says Mayo Clinic gastroenterologist Yvonne Romero, MD. Romero, who was not involved with the work, reviewed the findings for WebMD. She has received grants from makers of several acid-suppressing drugs.

Proton pump inhibitors are the most powerful class of antacid drugs. It's the third highest-selling class of drugs in the U.S. In 2009, doctors wrote 113.6 million prescriptions for the drugs. Prevacid 24HR, Prilosec OTC, and the combination medication Zegerid OTC that contains a PPI and sodium bicarbonate are available without prescription.

People Like PPIs Because They Work

Why are they so popular? The drugs do a great job of reducing stomach acid. They are safe compared with most medications. But mostly, they make people feel better, Romero says.

They're not only more powerful than simple over-the-counter antacids such as Maalox, Rolaids, and Tums, they also reduce stomach acid more than the H2 receptor antagonist (H2RA) drugs such as Axid, Pepcid, Tagamet, and Zantac.

And many Americans find it's much easier to take a pill than to eat less chocolate, caffeine, fatty foods, or other foods that can trigger heartburn, she says.

On the doctor's side, electronic medical records may be contributing to misuse, Zachary Smith, MD, a medical resident at the University of Chicago's NorthShore University Health System in Evanston, Ill., tells WebMD.

For all their good, electronic records make it easy to continue a medication by pushing a button. "So once a patient is on a safe drug like a PPI, it may be continued indefinitely and into the outpatient setting," says Smith, who led one of the new studies.

1 | 2 | 3

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
Heartburn or Heart Attack
Top 10 Heartburn Foods
Is it Heartburn or Gerd
digestive myths
Extreme Eats
graphic of esophageal area