Picture this: You’re standing in the drug store with heartburn, trying to decide which antacid pill to buy. This burning pain in your chest started hours ago, and it’s worse when you bend over, lie down, or eat. With so many different heartburn medications to choose from, you can’t tell which one will give you the most relief. Should you pick something cheaper, like Tagamet (generic: cimetidine), Zantac (generic: ranitidine) or Pepcid (generic: famotidine)? Which works faster: Pepto-Bismol, or TUMS? Since your pain’s persistent, you choose the most powerful option: Prilosec (generic: omeprazole), which is a PPI (proton pump inhibitor).
If you’ve never seen a doctor to treat your acid reflux, Prilosec OTC may seem like the safest bet. PPIs are fast, effective, and feature brands like Nexium you’ve seen for years in television commercials or glossy magazine ads. But without a doctor’s prescription, PPIs can present extreme — and potentially irreversible — side effects and complications. That’s why every single PPI available without a prescription warns you not to take it for more than 14 days. If you have frequent heartburn, we’ll compare potential side effects for two popular OTC (over-the-counter) heartburn medications: Prilosec and Zantac.
Prilosec vs. Zantac: Comparing Side Effects
Prilosec OTC, one of the most popular heartburn and acid reflux medications available on the market today, is a PPI. PPIs virtually halt the cells in your stomach’s lining from producing almost any gastric acid. This helps prevent your stomach from forming any peptic ulcers, assists in healing, and controls acid-reflux symptoms from severe heartburn. But unfortunately, PPIs tend to do their job a little too well.
“Dip into any physiology textbook,” says Harvard Health Publications’ website, “and you’ll find that stomach acid serves several constructive purposes.” Stomach acid helps digest your food, and it also provides a built-in barrier against bacterial infections. Eliminating most stomach acid means that your body cannot absorb many important nutrients from the food you eat during digestion. Scientists believe this could explain some of the more extreme side effects seen from long-term or frequent Prilosec use.
Commonly Reported Prilosec OTC Side Effects with Short-term Use
The most commonly reported Prilosec OTC short-term side effects include:
- Abdominal pain
Potentially Serious Health Complications from Taking Prilosec Longer Than 14 Days
Recent medical studies offer proof that you shouldn’t take PPIs long-term unless you’re prescribed them for a medically diagnosed ailment. If you take Prilosec daily or several times per month for years, you may develop the following side effects:
Prilosec Complication #1: Acute Renal Disease
A 2013 study observed 184,480 acid reflux patients living in the Midwest. Among these test subjects, 854 cases reported at least two claims for an acute renal disease diagnosis. Researchers found that patients receiving a renal disease diagnosis were twice as likely to have taken PPIs in the past.
Prilosec Complication #2: Chronic Clostridium Difficile Infections
C-diff is a bacterial infection that, if left untreated, can cause chronic, life-threatening diarrhea. Individuals who swallow C-diff bacteria in their food normally fight off infection through sufficient gastric acid production in their stomachs. But since PPIs make the stomach significantly less acidic, Prilosec patients are prone to experiencing serial C-diff infections. This increased risk is especially worrisome for older or immunocompromised Prilosec patients.
Prilosec Complication #3: Pneumonia
Similar to C-diff, the acid in your stomach kills incoming bacteria and viruses. Pneumonia occurs more frequently with PPI use because the acid does not destroy the viruses that cause it.
Prilosec Complication #4: Increased Risk of Bone Fractures
Your body absorbs calcium during digestion, but PPIs interfere with that process, leading to brittle, easily broken bones. In fact, the FDA released a warning about the possible increased risk of fracture for those who use a PPI.
Prilosec Complication #5: Dementia
A February 2016 JAMA Neurology study observed 70,000 adults aged 75 and up who had no dementia signs before enrollment. Researchers discovered subjects prescribed a PPI for at least 18 months had a 44% increased chance of developing dementia symptoms.
Other serious Prilosec side effects recently noted by medical researchers include:
- Heart attacks
- Vitamin D and B-12 deficiencies
- “Silent” kidney damage, which may lead to end-stage renal disease (ESRD) and death
Potential Side Effects With Zantac & Other H2 Blockers
Zantac 150 belongs to the drug class that’s commonly known as H2 blockers. Less potent than PPIs, H2 blockers reduce stomach acid production by blocking the acid stimulants which bind to histamine-2 receptors. (Hence the name H2 blockers.) For those looking for fast relief from occasional, but not chronic heartburn symptoms, H2 blockers work very well. Zantac and other H2 blockers ease symptoms within the first hour, while PPIs have a delayed-onset action mechanism. However, you may have to take H2 blockers more frequently than PPIs for treating regular GERD or frequent heartburn-related symptoms.
Potential side effects from Zantac are less severe than those you’ll risk taking Prilosec OTC. That said, you really shouldn’t take either medication regularly or long-term without seeing your doctor to investigate your heartburn symptoms. The most commonly reported Zantac side effects include:
Researchers already studied H2 blockers for over 50 years, and believe they carry less serious side effect risks than PPIs.
Researchers Find Few Serious Zantac Side Effect Risks, Even After Long-term Use
A 1993 study suggests that “the safety of long-term H2-receptor antagonist therapy needs to be considered in relation to the potential consequences of prolonged acid suppression, including the risk of proliferation of gastric flora and the risk of developing enterochromaffin-like cell hyperplasia, which could in turn, theoretically, lead to gastric malignancy.”
Researchers didn’t report any gastric malignancy cases, but most physicians suggest patients avoid taking either H2 blockers or PPIs long-term. If you suffer frequent heartburn or GERD symptoms, ask your physician for a specific treatment plan or a specialist referral. A gastroenterologist can regularly monitor your symptoms and help you avoid the worst possible Zantac and Prilosec side effects.
While PPIs are popular, widely available and heavily marketed, most prescription and OTC drug manufacturers downplay their long-term use risks. If you’re already taking additional OTC or prescription medications regularly, Zantac is the safer choice compared to PPIs like Prilosec.
What Prilosec and Nexium Victims Can Do
If you or a loved one experienced severe PPI side effects like kidney damage, you may have an eligible claim. To see within minutes if you may qualify for a cash settlement, complete your free PPI claim evaluation online today. Once you’ve submitted your information, an experienced mass tort lawyer will call to discuss your case and potential compensation options.