Aging boomers face greater complication and disease risks than middle-aged adults. Taking proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) greatly exacerbates those risks. Various PPIs are available in prescription as well as over-the-counter formulations. Prescriptions for Prilosec, Nexium and Zegerid are incredibly common, and an estimated 20 million Americans take PPIs annually. (In 2015, Nexium was reportedly the fourth-highest prescribed medication in the United States.) Despite the drug’s popularity, medical studies show many doctors inappropriately prescribe boomers and seniors PPIs. This practice puts patients at higher risk for Clostridium difficile (C-diff) infections, kidney disease, dementia, and bone fractures.
Why Boomers Are Inappropriately Prescribed PPIs
Doctors prescribe PPIs to treat gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) symptoms or severe heartburn. Despite many safer, less potent options (such as antacids or H2 blockers), patients often take PPIs for quick relief. Unfortunately, they also keep taking PPIs long after their reflux symptoms pass — aging boomers included.
PPIs first appeared in the 1980s and are still relatively safe. Since PPIs relieve the most severe heartburn symptoms with no immediate side effects, they’ve also been overprescribed, especially in boomers. Doctors also prescribe PPIs for elderly ICU patients with coagulopathy, on mechanical ventilation, or with a history of peptic ulcer disease.
Studies Show Dangers of Eliminating Gastric Acid Production
Because PPIs eliminate gastric acid, they also destroy many of its positive stomach functions — including absorbing nutrients. For this reason, researchers believe chronic vitamin and nutrition deficiencies could lead aging boomers to develop severe complications and diseases.
A 2016 French study highlighted how over-prescribed PPIs really are in elderly patient populations. The study assessed 125 patients with a mean age of 84 years. Researchers observed subjects for two years, and in 68% of cases, regular PPI therapy exceeded one year. The study found many doctors inappropriately prescribed elderly patients PPIs. Researchers concluded: “This can be explained by controversial issues or by difficulties in adapting these recommendations to geriatric practice.”
PPI use becomes even more dangerous for elderly patients in hospital settings. A 2013 study examined the link between PPIs and increased death risks in older patients discharged from acute care hospitals. Researchers analyzed 491 patients with a mean age of 80 discharged from 11 acute medical wards. They found that in this patient population, PPI use often turned deadly. “An increased risk of mortality was observed among patients exposed to high-dose PPIs vs. none,” the study concludes.
They also warned physicians to weigh the pros and cons of long-term prescription PPI use. Because these drugs are so potent, using them for prolonged periods of time can have dangerous and even fatal complications. These PPI complication risks are particularly high for elderly patients.
PPIs Used Regularly Increase Serious Disease Risks in Boomers, Seniors
Recent studies confirm doctors over-prescribe PPIs to boomers (particularly in acute hospital settings). Worse, PPI potency may contribute to several serious and potentially deadly diseases. PPIs interfere with nutrient absorption, making malnutrition issues more likely (already a common risk for elderly patients). In addition, PPIs also affect certain metabolic pathways. Long-term PPI use can reduce medication efficacy when absorbed through the stomach, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, antithrombotics, and bisphosphonates. Associated PPI complications may include:
- Clostridium difficile infection. C-Diff a common problem for elderly patients prescribed PPIs. Because PPIs suppress gastric acid, any ingested bacteria have a perfect environment to flourish. Those with healthy stomach acid levels can easily battle bacterial infections. If C-diff progresses, bacteria can overpower normal gut flora and produce toxins which injure intestines and cause inflammation. This can then lead to diarrhea, dehydration, delirium, and other critical complications. In fact, a 2012 meta-analysis found one in every 3,925 patients regularly taking PPIs develops C-diff. That’s nearly twice the normal incidence rate.
- Bone fracture. Bone fracture risks are especially high in elderly patients, especially women with osteoporosis. The theory is that since calcium absorption in the stomach requires gastric acid, PPI use causes malabsorption issues. A 2015 meta-analysis found a 26% increase in hip fractures by patients regularly taking PPIs. The risk of spine and any-site fractures also increased by 58%. As a result, the FDA warned prescribing physicians about increased bone fracture risks.
- Gastroenteritis and flu infections. An Australian study linked PPI use to greater infectious gastroenteritis hospitalization risks, particularly for boomers. Researchers looked at 38,019 individuals with a median age of 69.7 years. They found patients taking PPIs were 1.5 times more likely to require hospitalization for gastroenteritis than non-users.
What You Can Do
Because doctors frequently over-prescribe boomers PPIs, lawsuits are now underway. Manufacturers for drugs like Nexium, Prilosec, and Zegerid are responsible for warning consumers and healthcare providers about potential risks. Diseases from long-term PPI use can be fatal and often significantly reduce patients’ overall quality of life.
If you or a loved one developed serious health complications while taking PPIs, you may qualify for financial compensation. Get your free claim evaluation today to speak with an attorney about getting the justice you deserve.
Related: When and How to Stop Taking PPIs for Heartburn Relief
Mandy Voisin is a freelance writer, blogger, and author of Girls of the Ocean and Star of Deliverance. As an accomplished content marketing consultant, mom of four and doctor's wife, Mandy has written hundreds of articles about dangerous drugs and medical devices, medical issues that impact disabled Americans, veterans' healthcare and workers' compensation issues since 2016.