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Data from a new study appears to raise questions about whether side effects of Nexium, Prilosec and similar heartburn drugs are actually linked to an increased risk of pneumonia, as some other research has suggested.
Researchers from the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom say that a closer look at pneumonia rates associated with the use of a class of heartburn drugs known as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) suggests that other factors may be playing a role in increased pneumonia risks among users. The findings were published last month in the medical journal The BMJ.
The study looked at data on 160,000 new users of Nexium and similar PPI drugs from 1990 to 2013 in the U.K. finding that the risk of community-acquired pneumonia was 67% higher among patients exposed to the widely used heartburn drugs. However, when researchers looked at exposure rates more closely, they found that the rate was nearly doubled for those exposed to pneumonia before they began taking the drugs, and the rate was only 19% higher if the patient was exposed to pneumonia after they began taking PPIs.
Overall, the analysis found that the relative risk of pneumonia from heartburn drug use actually declined to nine percent lower than average under certain methodologies.
“The association between the use of PPIs and risk of community acquired pneumonia is likely to be due entirely to confounding factors,” the researchers concluded.
The findings contradict with those of South Korean researchers published in 2010, which determined there was a 27% higher risk of pneumonia among those taking Nexium, Prilosec and similar drugs. However, even that study cautioned that they could find no causal link, and theorized that it is possible that chronic acid reflux could be causing cases of pneumonia when acid from the stomach gets into the lungs.
If true, the theory would explain why in the latest study, the rates of pneumonia decreased, as the heartburn drugs reduced the overproduction of acid, decreasing the chance that it could get into the lungs due to acid reflux.
Heartburn Drug Health Risks
Although Nexium, Prilosec and other proton pump inhibitors are among the most widely used medications in the United States, the research comes amid growing concerns about the risk of kidney damage recently associated with the medications, which has caused many doctors to reconsider the wide-spread long-term use of the heartburn drugs among many individuals.
The first warnings about any kidney issues with PPIs were added to the drug labels in December 2014, indicating that there may be a risk of acute interstitial nephritis (AIN) risk from Nexium, Prilosec and other proton pump inhibitors. This condition involves inflammation of the kidneys, but plaintiffs maintain that the warnings do not go far enough to raise awareness about the serious risks associated with these medications.
In April 2015, a study published in the medical journal CMAJ Open found that Nexium, Prilosec, and other PPIs cause a 3 times higher risk of acute interstitial nephritis, but were also associated with a 2.5 times higher risk of acute kidney injury, which involves an abrupt loss of kidney function.
Earlier this year, a study published in the medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine built on these findings, examining data on more than 10,000 participants over a period of more than 10 years, finding that the drugs were also associated with a higher incidence of chronic kidney disease.
In April 2016, 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.
Over the last year, manufacturers of these drugs have faced a growing number of Nexium lawsuits, Prilosec lawsuits, Prevacid lawsuits, Protonix lawsuits,Dexilant lawsuits and other kidney failure lawsuits by individuals who say that they failed to warn the medical community and patients of the health risks associated with these popular heartburn drugs.