Studies Links Popular Heartburn Drugs, Nexium and Prilosec, to Kidney Failure

According to new studies, long-term use of proton pump inhibitor medications, including blockbuster drugs, Nexium and Prilosec, may be associated with a significantly increased risk of kidney damage, kidney failure, chronic kidney disease, acute interstitial nephritis, dementia, bone fracture and other complications. For individuals who used proton pump inhibitors like Nexium or Prilosec, that have also been diagnosed with kidney damage or end-stage kidney failure or other aforementioned injuries, there may be a link.

What are Proton Pump Inhibitors?

Nexium, Prilosec and Prevacid belong to a class of prescription and over-the-counter medications called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), which are commonly used to relieve symptoms of heartburn, acid reflux and a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Because heartburn and acid reflux symptoms tend to be persistent, people often use PPIs for years, which studies have shown can lead to serious medical problems. In addition to possibly causing a long-term drug dependence in patients who stop PPI use only to suffer worsened symptoms of heartburn or acid reflux, a growing body of research has shown that Nexium and other proton pump inhibitors may also increase the risk of serious kidney damage.

Risk of Kidney Disease, Kidney Failure from PPIs

In this latest study, published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, researchers concluded that patients who take Nexium and other proton pump inhibitors for a long period of time may be significantly more likely to suffer kidney disease and kidney failure. The researchers examined information from the Department of Veterans Affairs national databases, and compared more than 170,000 new users of proton pump inhibitors to more than 20,000 new users of another class of drugs also prescribed to block stomach acid, called histamine H2 receptor blockers, or H2 blockers. The researchers followed up with the study participants after five years, and found that those using PPIs had a 28% higher risk of developing kidney disease compared to those using H2 blockers, and a 96% higher risk of end-stage kidney failure.

PPIs Should Only Be Used When “Medically Necessary”

This new study echoes the findings of previous research, including one study published earlier this year in JAMA Internal Medicine, in which researchers found a connection between the use of proton pump inhibitors and an increased risk of kidney damage. While these studies do not prove a cause and effect relationship between proton pump inhibitors and kidney injury, study author Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly of the Clinical Epidemiology Center at the VA Saint Louis Health Care System recently noted that “[patients should] use PPIs only when it is medically necessary, and should limit duration of exposure to the minimum necessary to treat the underlying medical condition.”