Heartburn Headache; July 2010; Scientific American Magazine; by Melinda Wenner Moyer; 3 Page(s)
In 2008 americans spent more than $14 billion on heartburn treatments called proton pump inhibitors—such as Nexium, Prevacid and Protonix—making them second only to lipid regulators as the best-selling drug class in the country. But recent research suggests that the popularity of these drugs in part results from unnecessary prescriptions that may be putting millions of people at risk. Long-term use has been linked to withdrawal symptoms, an increased risk of bacterial infection, hip fracture and even possibly nutritional deficiencies.
Proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs, work just as their name implies: they block an enzyme system in the stomach’s cells essential for pumping out acid. Although they are meant to treat only gastroesophageal reflux and peptic ulcer disease, “a number of people who have gastrointestinal symptoms that are not due to acid are given PPIs,” perhaps because of misdiagnoses or because “the physician didn’t have any better alternative,” says Colin W. Howden, a gastroenterologist at the Northwestern University School of Medicine.