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Our firm has three areas of concentration; Personal Injury, Social Security, and Veterans Disability. Part of my job involves talking to Veterans about their disability benefits. One common trend among Veterans who served in Iraq is gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. So many Veterans from this era have gastrointestinal issues. It’s so prominent that issues like GERD, acid reflux etc. are presumptive conditions for Vets who served in the Southwest Asia Theater of Operations. When you speak to as many Veterans as I do, you start to notice trends. One trend I noticed quickly amongst this group was how they were told to treat the condition. Almost every Veteran I spoke to was given Prilosec, Nexium, or some generic version of the aforementioned products. These products are grouped together as Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPI). Recent reports state that these products may be much more harmful than previously thought.
Before we get into the danger, let’s first look at how a PPI like Nexium works. With the exception of the three years that I was obsessed with Grey’s Anatomy, I have no medical background, so I did what everyone else without a medical degree does, I went to WebMD. Their website states that Proton Pump Inhibitors reduce the production of acid in the stomach. This leaves little acid in the stomach juice so that if your stomach juice backs up into the esophagus, it is less irritating. This allows the esophagus to heal.
To be honest, I have acid reflux. It’s actually been diagnosed twice in my past. Each time I was given a PPI and told to take it x amount of times per day, and I would be healed. Both times I took the pills and they didn’t do anything. I realized that they weren’t for me. So I stopped taking them. I instead modified my diet. As a native West Virginian, it was a hard to give up pepperoni rolls, but I’m no longer up all night with acid reflux pain. It turns out that my refusal to take the medication may have been a good thing.
Do any research on these medications and you’ll find out how safe they are. Side effects generally include fever; cold symptoms such as stuffy nose, sneezing, sore throat; stomach pain, gas; nausea, vomiting, mild diarrhea; or a headache. If it’s so safe, why is it in the news right now? A trip to the Prilosec website offers some insight into this issue.
Procter and Gamble are the makers of Prilosec and Prilosec OCT. The latter is the version you can buy over the counter. They must be serious about the issues with GERD because they hired a medical expert, Larry the Cable Guy to endorse their product. (He seems like a Hobart man.) Kidding aside, I thought it would be important to see how much these companies are doing to educate their consumers about risks associated with prolonged use. Beneath the scrolling banner featuring Larry the Cable Guy, and next to the link for a coupon, I found the FAQ’s and warnings. In this section, it states very strictly that Prilosec should only be taken for a 14 day period. If your issues last for more than 14 days, contact your medical care provider. The Nexium website isn’t as fancy as the Prilosec site. They don’t have any comedians endorsing their product, and more importantly, they didn’t have any warnings about the length of time recommended for the product. This is in sharp contrast to the Prilosec site that had several warnings. Further, Prilosec is making use of their retargeting campaign to warn consumers about the length of time associated with their product. All of their banners state that you shouldn’t take it for more than 14 days.
At this point, you must be wondering what the big deal is about PPIs. For a drug that has no major side effects, there is an awful lot of talk about going on right now about the issues regarding extended use. My own mother has used Prilosec and Nexium for years. Her doctor still recommends that she take it every day. So, it can’t be that bad, right? Well, it turns out that it can be that bad, and actually much worse. A recent Consumer Reports article sheds some light on the issue with the extended use of PPIs. Their article, which references a recent study by the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, states that up to 70 percent of people who take a PPI might not need such a potent acid reducer and could get just as much—or more—relief from a safer heartburn remedy.
The study goes on to state that extended use of these drugs can lead to heart disease and dementia. Regarding Kidney Disease, one section of the Consumer Reports Article really stood out: researchers followed nearly 200,000 patients treated through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for five years and found a roughly 20 percent higher risk of kidney disease in those who took PPIs compared with those treated with a different class of heartburn drugs called H2 blockers, such as Pepcid AC and Zantac.
While there is no definite reason why this is occurring, it’s suggested that it may be related to PPIs reducing stomach acid. A person with reduced stomach levels may have issues absorbing iron, magnesium, and Vitamin B-12. Once again, my mother has been taking a PPI for years and has issues with iron, magnesium, and B-12 deficiency. She also has chronic kidney disease. The report also mentions that a PPI may lead to an allergic reaction that causes swelling inside the kidney and keeps it from working properly.
The risks don’t stop there. Consumer Reports goes on to state that stomach acid kills bacteria. As I mentioned earlier, a PPI works by reducing stomach acid. If you have less stomach acid then you are more likely to get infections from bacteria. According to the research, this may increase your risk of bacterial pneumonia, food poisoning from campylobacter and salmonella bacteria, and an infection caused by the bacterium clostridium difficult which can cause severe diarrhea, fever, and even death.
There is a lot to digest here. The first thing that came to mind for me was my mom. Doctors have not been able to determine why her kidneys are failing, and this may be the missing link. Personally, I don’t plan on taking a PPI anytime soon, especially when there are other options available. Be sure to ask your doctor about what steps you should take now to make sure you are safely treating for any gastrointestinal issue. If you have been taking a PPI for a long period of time, you may want to ask a medical professional if it’s safe to continue.
So, what should you do if you have chronic kidney disease and were prescribed a PPI like Nexium, Prilosec, or Prevacid? Well, there are some lawsuits pending at this time against the parent companies of all of these products. These are considered mass tort claims. But you may wonder how the companies may be liable. For one, the products were not labeled properly, this is especially true of the over the counter version. Only now are they pushing the 14-day limit by way of advertising. Other lawsuits have cited the manufacturer didn’t properly warn consumers about the side effects. If you took any of these medications for an extended period of time and are now suffering from kidney disease, give us a call for a free case evaluation. Our toll-free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you’d rather be contacted at a more convenient time, click here and a representative will call you.
Jan Dils, Attorneys at Law