Acid reflux, its full name being Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), is a painful condition that occurs when the muscle at the base of the esophagus does not operate properly and allows stomach acid to travel into one esophagus, causing heartburn and other uncomfortable symptoms. When this phenomenon happens often or uncontrollably, then people are usually diagnosed with GERD.
A common way to treat GERD for many years has been medication, most commonly proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). Common brand names for this type of medication are Prilosec, Nexium, and Prevacid. These drugs work to decrease acid production in one's stomach, thereby reducing the chance that some of that acid will travel back up into the esophagus. These drugs usually just treat the symptoms of acid reflux without tackling the source, and while they can be effective, there are some side effects that you should be aware of before you begin taking them.
- Increased Risk of Chronic Kidney Disease
PPIs have been known to cause magnesium deficiencies, and these deficiencies, in turn, can cause kidney problems in the long-term. One study released in 2016 stated that using a PPI regularly can increase the risk of chronic kidney disease by 20 to 50 percent.
- Increased Risk of Dementia
While it is still not entirely known why patients who use PPIs also seem to have a higher prevalence of dementia, there is a strong correlation. It has been seen in the brains of mice that PPIs increase the prevalence of a damaging protein that is seen in large numbers in the brains of people diagnosed with dementia. This protein is known as beta-amyloid.
- Increased Risk of Pneumonia
Stomach acid helps to fight off infections. Therefore, if the amount of stomach acid is reduced, then infections like pneumonia may be more likely to take root and spread. Taking PPIs leaves people much more vulnerable to falling sick from pathogens that will inevitably be ingested.
- Nutrient Deficiencies
Stomach acid also helps to break down the food that people consume. With less acid in the stomach, that also makes it harder for food to be broken down completely, which means that some people may not get all the nutrients they need from their diet. Besides magnesium, that has been mentioned above, some other nutrients that are commonly not fully absorbed are B12, iron, zinc, and calcium. All of these are necessary to live a healthy life.
- Weakened Bones
The decrease in magnesium and other nutrients can also lead to weakened bones that break and fracture more easily. This can be especially dangerous for older users of the drug whose bones may be weakening due to age or osteoporosis already.
As with any medication the benefits need to be carefully weighed against the risks. Therefore, you'll want to do extensive research on acid reflux medication to help you to make your decision. Reading the research on the medication, as well as reviews of user experiences with the medication, its efficacy, and its side effects will help you to obtain a holistic view of the benefits and risks.
PPIs do work quite well for people with severe issues. For instance, PPIs can be extremely helpful in delaying the progression of esophageal cancer. However, a major problem is that many people take the medication when they do not really need to, or they take it for a much longer period of time than they need to. Heartburn should try to be controlled through other means such as losing weight and diet adjustments before someone immediately jumps to using medication.
Many people are hesitant to stop using the medication because once it is stopped, there is a bit of a pushback, and the symptoms will come back stronger than before for a period of time before they settle down. Yet if people really do not need the medication, then it is important to push through this time and control their symptoms through other means.