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Drugs that millions of people take for heartburn and indigestion might increase the risk for kidney disease. This is a new research published today in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. NPR health correspondent Rob Stein has the details.
ROB STEIN, BYLINE: You've probably seen the ads for them - Nexium, Prilosec, Prevacid - maybe even pick some up at the drugstore when you're having a bad bout of heartburn or indigestion. They're called proton-pump inhibitors. Morgan Grams at Johns Hopkins calls them PPIs for short.
MORGAN GRAMS: They are very, very common medications. The most recent estimate was greater than 15 million Americans used PPIs in 2013.
STEIN: For a long time, everyone thought they were very safe. But that started to change, and the list of possible worries has been getting longer and longer - bone fractures, infections, maybe even heart problems. So Grams and her colleagues decided to take a look at whether PPIs might increase the risk for something else - chronic kidney disease. They examined the medical records of more than 250,000 people.
GRAMS: We found that PPI use was associated with anywhere from 20 to 50 percent higher risk among people that used proton-pump inhibitors compared to those who didn't.
STEIN: Now, Grams study doesn't prove the drugs cause kidney disease, and the actual risk for any individual may be really low. But Grams says it's still a big, red flag and makes her think people should only use them when they really need them. No one wants to end up on dialysis or need a kidney transplant because of a little heartburn.
GRAMS: Given the fact that so many people use PPI medications, I think it is judicious to exercise some caution.
STEIN: Other experts agree.
ADAM SCHOENFELD: I think it's a pretty big concern.
STEIN: Adam Schoenfeld is an internal medicine resident at the University of California, San Francisco. He says doctors are prescribing PPIs way too casually.
SCHOENFELD: What happens is, we put people on these medications, and then we forget about them because when they first came out, they weren't associated with side effects. Or we didn't think they were. So we put them on this medication thinking that it, you know - it's a quick fix, and it's very safe. But in actuality, they're associated with a range of side effects.
STEIN: Schoenfeld says people can try other things first.
SCHOENFELD: There's other ways that people can, you know, feel better with indigestion or heartburn. They can change their diet. They can stop smoking or drinking as much alcohol.
STEIN: And if that doesn't work, they should only take a proton-pump inhibitor for a short a period of time as possible. Rob Stein, NPR News.
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