Nexium, Similar Heartburn Drugs Often Prescribed For Non-Gastrointestinal Problems: Study

Researchers from Saudi Arabia indicate that popular heartburn drugs like Nexium and Prilosec are being prescribed frequently for uses that have nothing to do with gastrointestinal problems, highlighting recent concerns about the potential overuse of the medications. 

While the study, published this month in the JAASP, the Journal of Asian Association of Schools of Pharmacy, focused on doctors in Saudi Arabia, it raises questions about the blockbuster drugs in the United States as well, which are used by millions of Americans and have been linked to recent concerns about a number of side effects, including a potential risk of kidney problems.

Drugs like Nexium, Prevacid and Prilosec are prescribed for “off-label,” or for uses not approved by regulators, about 40% to 70% of the time, based on various studies. This study looked at where they were being used when they were not being used to treat gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and similar problems.

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Researchers looked at new patients prescribed PPIs over a two-month period in a teaching hospital in Saudi Arabia. It involved 114 patients ranging from 13 to 96 years of age.

According to the findings, about a third, or 32%, of off-label prescriptions are for cardiovascular disorders, such as acute coronary syndrome, atrial fibrillation and heart failure. The second highest non-approved use is for neurological problems, like those caused by a stroke, which accounts for about 11% of off-label uses.

Respiratory problems like pneumonia and COPD and prescriptions for trauma were tied at about 10.5% of prescriptions each.

“Several clinical trials have demonstrated that proton pump inhibitors are both safe and well tolerated when used appropriately,” the researchers note. “However, PI’s overuse and accompanying misuse increases the likelihood of adverse effects.”

Side Effects of Heartburn Drugs

The findings come amid increasing concerns about the potential side effects of Nexium, Prilosec and other proton pump inhibitors, as well as questions about whether the drugs are too widely used for long periods of time, often without any effort to reduce the need for the drug over time.

In December 2014, the FDA required new warnings for the first time about a form of kidney damage associated with proton pump inhibitors, known as acute interstitial nephritis (AIN), which involves a sudden inflammation of the kidneys, which can lead to more severe problems.

More recent studies have highlighted the potential link between Nexium and kidney problems, suggesting that the popular drugs make also cause users to experience acute kidney injury, chronic kidney disease and end-stage kidney failure, often resulting in the need for dialysis treatment or a kidney transplant.

Earlier this year, a study published in the medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine also found an increased risk of chronic kidney disease with the heartburn medications, indicating that users of Nexium, Prilosec and other PPI may be 50% more likely when compared to non-users.

These findings were supported by another study published in April 2016, in which researchers with the Department of Veterans Affairs found that users of Nexium, Prilosec or other PPIs may be 96% more likely to develop kidney failure and 28% more likely to develop chronic kidney disease after five years of use.

A growing number of Nexium lawsuits, Prilosec lawsuits, Prevacid lawsuits, Protonix lawsuits, Dexilant lawsuits and other claims over side effects of proton pump inhibitors are now being filed against the drug makers, alleging that they failed to adequately warn users and the medical community about the potential health risks.

As heartburn drug injury lawyers continue to review and file cases, it is expected that thousands of cases could be filed in the coming months.

The complaints allege that the drug makers put their desire for profits before consumers safety by withholding important safety warnings, while encouraging over-use of the medications.


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