Proton Pump Inhibitors Linked to Pneumonia
Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are effective in treating heartburn symptoms, but long-term use of PPIs could increase your risk of pneumonia.
How PPIs Work
Acid reflux exposes the esophagus to digestive fluids and causes irritation and inflammation. This burning sensation in the throat or chest usually leads heartburn sufferers to reach for an antacid or proton pump inhibitor (PPI) for relief.
Unlike antacids that neutralize stomach acid, proton pump inhibitors block the glands in the lining of the stomach that produce gastric acid. A lower volume of stomach acid allows the esophagus time to heal and prevents further inflammation. While PPIs have provided relief for many people with reflux, they are not without risk.
PPIs May Increase Pneumonia Risk in Older People
According to a recent study at the University of Exeter, PPI use could make geriatric patients more prone to developing pneumonia. Pneumonia is one of the leading causes of death among older adults, so the discovery of a link between pneumonia and PPIs is a significant finding.
Stomach acid usually acts as a barrier to infections, but PPIs block gastric acid production and increase stomach pH. The resulting more alkaline environment may allow pneumonia-causing bacteria (which would have been eliminated at lower pH) to survive.
The Uncertain Future of Proton Pump Inhibitors
Researchers suggest that older individuals not stop taking PPIs unless their physicians advise them to do so. However, this study is one more example of the dangers of unregulated PPI use. Some experts estimate that about 40 percent of older adults take PPIs on a regular basis, but up to 85 percent of those who have a prescription for PPIs do not really need them (Science Daily). Now that PPIs are available over-the-counter, the potential for misuse is even higher.
In the past, PPIs were considered safe. However, more recently, long-term use has been linked to increased risk of hip fractures, heart disease, bacterial infection, dementia and stomach cancer.
A GI Specialist can Help
If you experience heartburn symptoms more than twice per week, make an appointment with a board-certified gastroenterologist for evaluation and testing. Relying on over-the-counter PPIs could pose a significant risk to your health.