Dealing with chronic heartburn can be extremely painful, so when you finally find something that relieves your symptoms, it can be difficult to stop. Nearly 20 million Americans rely on proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) to control their acid reflux symptoms. These medications are convenient, affordable and largely effective in controlling chronic heartburn, but they are only meant to be used for a short period of time. Ongoing usage of PPIs could mask a more serious digestive condition.
Acid reflux is caused by a weak or faulty lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES is located at the junction of the esophagus and the stomach. It acts like a valve allowing food and liquids to enter the stomach, then closing to prevent them from rising back into the esophagus. When the LES is weakened or not functioning properly, food, liquids and digestive juices can creep back into the esophagus and cause pain, discomfort and damage.
Taking PPIs will control the symptoms of acid reflux, but it will not address the cause. Once medication is stopped, symptoms are likely to return and could be more aggressive than before. Long-term usage of PPIs has also been associated with several health risks, including:
- Increased risk of heart attack
- Increased risk of pneumonia
- Bacterial infections introduced through foods
- Increased risk of C. difficile
- Decreased absorption of calcium, magnesium, iron, vitamin B12, and other nutrients
- Low bone density and increased risk of fractures
- Reduced ability of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) to close due to low stomach acid levels.
- Increased risk of Barrett’s esophagus (Source: How to Treat Heartburn).
FDA recommendations state that PPIs should only be taken for a 14-day course of treatment course up to three times per year. If you’ve been taking PPIs longer than recommended, consult your doctor to discuss a long-term treatment plan. Addressing the root cause of your acid reflux will provide complete relief in the safest way possible.