Proton pump inhibitors, otherwise referred to as PPIs, are a class of medications that target acid-producing cells that line the stomach. They work by restricting the amount of acid that these cells can produce. According to Mayo Clinic, proton pump inhibitors are proven to be highly effective in treating chronic acid reflux–commonly referred to as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD–as well as peptic ulcers.
PPIs are available in many different strengths. Some can be purchased over the counter and others require a prescription. They are usually ingested once a day in the morning and are safe to use as long as they are used as directed. However, as is true for medicines and medications of any type, there are risks associated with misusing them or using them in a manner other than directed. For the vast majority of patients, however, PPIs are not dangerous and are safe to use.
Why PPIs Are Needed
Acid production in the stomach is a natural part of food digestion. However, this acid is so strong that the lining of the stomach must produce a mucous membrane to prevent the lining of the stomach from eroding. If this membrane breaks down for any reason, acids from the stomach can cause internal damage, leading to an ulcer.
Other patients may suffer from issues with the sphincter, which is a muscle at the top of the stomach that keeps the stomach closed and prevents its contents from traveling back through the gullet, which is also known as the esophagus. If the sphincter does not close or does not function properly, the contents of the stomach can travel back up the gullet, causing burning and irritation along the way. This phenomenon is known as acid reflux and leads to heartburn, inflammation of the lining of the esophagus, and other issues.
By preventing the stomach from producing too much acid to begin with, PPIs can help prevent acid reflux and can give any ulcers the time they need to heal.
The Proton Pump
PPIs are called proton pump inhibitors because the key mechanism behind their function involves blocking or inhibiting an enzyme system known as the proton pump. This enzyme system is responsible for the acidification of the stomach, and it is found in the lining of the stomach. By inhibiting the system across the entire inner lining of the system, PPIs reduce the production of acid in the stomach.
Long-Term Use of PPIs
Certain infections are connected to the long-term use of PPIs. For example, there is a positive correlation between the incidence of pneumonia and diarrhea in some patients who use PPIs. However, the study that identified this correlation was observational in nature. This means that the connection between PPIs and these health issues was not established, and we simply know that some people who use PPIs reported having these issues, but their root causes were not confirmed.
There are, however, a few disorders that are, in fact, caused by PPIs. One study found that the long-term use of PPIs can change the natural composition of chemicals and bacteria in the gut. Certain bacteria that aid in digestion and the absorption of vitamins and minerals occur naturally in the bowels and the stomach. PPIs reduce the diversity of these “friendly” bacteria, making it harder for the body to absorb some of the nutrients it needs.
According to Cleveland Clinic, a loss of friendly bacteria has another disadvantage. It makes it easier for various germs to multiply within the body, leading to infections, which can lead to secondary issues such as diarrhea. This scenario may require the use of antibiotics along with a daily regimen of PPIs. An alternative is the use of histamine blockers for GERD or ulcer control that may work better for bowel control. Providing your doctor with your medical history will help him or her determine which of the two options is best for you.
If the severity of your acid reflux or ulcers rules out the option of using alternative forms of acid control, using supplements alongside PPIs is a good way to address the issue of vitamin and nutrient absorption.
Potential Side Effects
As mentioned above, PPIs are not dangerous and are safe to use, but several side effects do occur for some users. These side effects include:
- Constipation, diarrhea, or flatulence
- Headaches or nausea
- Abdominal pain
Safe Usage of PPIs
The answer to the question of whether PPIs are dangerous or safe to use depends on your specific case. Following these guidelines can lower your risk, if any, of developing issues with your use of PPIs.
- Only purchase and use the brand and strength recommended by your doctor.
- Always take them as directed.
- Take them for the issue you face. PPIs for ulcers may be different from PPIs for GERD.
- Speak with your doctor about ceasing your use of PPIs if they are no longer needed.
Always be sure to share your complete medical history with your doctor. Also, make sure to use your medications as directed and speak with your doctor if you suffer any new symptoms or experience any other life or health changes that may affect your use of PPIs. Pintas & Mullins Law Firm can help, so call us today at (800) 794-0444.