Acid Reflux Drugs Linked to Serious Liver Damage

The class of drugs called proton pump inhibitors–such popular brands Prilosec, Prevacid and Nexium–have come under increased scrutiny due to potential side effects, such as serious kidney damage, increased risk of fractures and event increased risk of death.

Now medical researchers have added potential liver damage to that list.

Dr. Bernd Schnabl and colleagues at the UC San Diego Medical Center found that these medications allow for certain bacteria to thrive in the stomach, due to the reduction of stomach acid. The bacteria move to the liver where they increase inflammation. For individuals with existing liver damage, the bacteria can make their condition more severe.

Liver damage is particularly common among obese and alcoholic populations. These same populations have increased use of these drugs due to indigestion and acid reflux.

This information comes on the back of two major studies questioning the safety of these drugs. A John Hopkins study suggested that users of these drugs have a dramatically increased risk of higher risk of chronic kidney disease. Then a recent Washington University School of Medicine study linked proton-pump inhibitors with an increased likelihood of early death.

A staggering amount of Americans–approximately 10 percent–use proton pump inhibitors. That usage is as high as two-thirds for individuals with with liver disease.

Medical professionals have shown concern that that proton pump inhibitors are widely over-prescribed, and many users are using them incorrectly. Over-the-counter versions of these drugs are widely available.

The medical community is advising that that individuals should refrain from using these drugs until they’re under a doctor’s care, and that lifestyle changes should be a first line of defense to combat acid reflux and indigestion.