is using acidity medicines bad?

Long-Term Antacid (Proton Pump Inhibitor) Use – Is It Harmful?

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If you have suffered from acidity then you will know that sometimes it can be quite a nuisance. Despite multiple medications and lifestyle adjustments, the condition can persist even if you take each and every measure that your doctor advises you.

That being said, it is important to understand that taking antacid medication, particularly proton pump inhibitors, may not be the right thing to do in the long term. 

What Are Proton Pump Inhibitors?

Proton pump inhibitors are medicines that work by blocking a particular channel that is responsible for the production of acid in the stomach. Some of the common drugs that are prescribed by physicians include omeprazole, esomeprazole, pantoprazole, ilaprazole, and rabeprazole.

These drugs are utilized in treating not only acidity-related symptoms but also severe gastritis, ulcers in the stomach, acid reflux disease, and Helicobacter pylori infection.

How Long Should Proton Pump Inhibitors Be Taken?

The current guidelines set forth by the American Gastroenterological Association highlight the use of appropriate proton pump inhibitor drugs. The approach advises the use of these drugs for only a short period of time.

Unfortunately, most patients who take this drug take them for a lot longer than prescribed. In the long run, this may have certain side effects.

A short course of proton pump inhibitor is often prescribed for patients who suffer from Helicobacter infection. For example, the course of treatment may be for only four weeks or so. In individuals with severe acidity, treatment duration may sometimes extend up to 3 months.

Proton pump inhibitors can also be used for the treatment of abdominal pain that is associated with gastritis. Short courses are often sufficient in such conditions.

There are however certain conditions where longer duration of proton pump inhibitors may be prescribed. These include Barrett’s esophagus, severe inflammation of the esophagus (called esophagitis), acid reflux disease, and people who have had an ulcer in the stomach that led to bleeding.

Side Effects

Unfortunately, most medicines prescribed for any clinical condition can have associated side effects. The same is the case with proton pump inhibitors, though it is extremely rare.

proton pump inhibitors side effects

Although it is a rare side effect, regular use of proton pump inhibitors has been associated with low magnesium levels in the blood. This can lead to muscle weakness, irregular heart rhythms, and even seizures sometimes. Replacing magnesium through supplements does not help the situation either.

Long-term medication use has been associated with a higher risk of developing chest infections and infections in the bowel caused by a bacteria called Clostridium difficile.

In individuals taking this medication for some time, the drugs can sometimes increase the level of a hormone called Gastrin. This can, through complex mechanisms, increase the production of acid in the stomach, making the entire treatment counter-productive. To make matters worse, stopping the drug can sometimes result in a rebound increase in acid production which can worsen acid-related symptoms.

Another rare side-effect of long-term use of this antacid medicine is a reduction in vitamin B12 levels. This is not a common problem, fortunately.

Sometimes, these drugs can interact with other medications such as clopidogrel, certain epilepsy medications, and warfarin (a blood thinner). It is important that you let your doctor know what medication you are taking so that they are aware of the possible interactions when they prescribe these drugs.

Stopping Proton Pump Inhibitors

When stopping the drug, it is often done in a tapered manner if the patient has been taking the drug for the long term. This includes taking medication on alternate days for a few days before stopping it.

However, stopping it abruptly is usually not a problem.

Closing Remarks

Proton pump innovators are commonly prescribed drug in the management of hyper acidity and gastritis. While they are safe in the long term, there can be associated side-effects in a few individuals. Always talk to your doctor before taking medications for any clinical condition.

Dr Vivek Baliga B
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