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A look at Health Risks associated with the Overuse of Heartburn Blockers

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"A look at Health Risks associated with the Overuse of Heartburn Blockers"
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With commercials all over the web and on televisions, it's not surprising that more and more Americans are using heartburn remedies.  According to IMS Health, heartburn medications were the third-largest class of drug in the country with $13.6 billion in sales and more than 110 million prescriptions filled in 2009.  However, while heartburn remedies provide relief from common gastric pain and discomfort, these medications may have some unacceptable side effect associated with overuse.

Types of Heartburn Remedies

There are several ways of treating heartburn, but the most common are including over-the-counter aids and prescribed medication.  Antacids are common remedies which consist of tablets or liquids which neutralize the stomach acids which cause heartburn.  Common brands include Tums, Alka-2 and Titralac.  Another type of heartburn medication include prescription drugs such Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs).  These medications, which are taken orally, lower the production of acid in your stomach. Prevacid, Nexium and Protonix are common brands of this type of heartburn medication.  H2 Blockers are still another type of heartburn remedy.  These drugs, which include Zantac, Pepcid, and Tagamat, actually block the body’s production of stomach acid.

Risk Associated with Heartburn Medications

Heartburn is often associated with too much acid, but in fact the opposite can occur causing heartburn. When we eat food, the stomach produces hydrochloric acid (HCL). In 2010, the FDA announced newly discovered risks associated with the use of PPI type heartburn medications and Scientific American publish reports about increased risks which include gastric, immune and skeletal system problems.


Most antacids contain a combination of Magnesium, Calcium, or Aluminum. Anyone of these ingredients can cause residual problems.  Any remedy that contains higher amounts of magnesium. Such as Maalox or Mylanta, leave users at risk for diarrhea and constipation. Those remedies are high in Calcium.  These medications can lead to kidney failure if used for long periods of time, because a user may have elevated levels of calcium in the blood stream.  Aluminum based antacids increase a users risk for constipation, but may also risk decreased calcium absorption, which can lead to osteoporosis. Additionally, those people who have kidney disease shouldn’t use antacids containing calcium carbonate, aluminum hydroxide and magnesium carbonate without their doctor’s recommendation and continued monitoring.


More research has be completed on the impact of PPIs given the Prepulsid litigation from almost a decade ago.  However, these medications, used in more severe cases, are more effective at remedied chronic heartburn.  The side effects however have been revealed to include increased bone fractures, possibly because the drugs inhibit calcium absorption. In addition, other studies showed the PPIs users had increased risks for bacterial infections, including pneumonia,  because of the drugs suppression mechanisms.  Other low occurrence side effects included diarrhea, nausea and abdominal pain.

H2 Blockers

H2 blockers, also called H2-receptor antagonists, are medicines that reduce the amount of acid the stomach produces and are great in treating for Gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD.)  For this class of heartburn medication, common side effects include headache, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and rash.  More problematic, and reportable, side effects revealed in studies include liver problems, cardiac irregularities (slow or fast heart rates) , depression, agitation, hallucinations and confusion.

Other Options

Some heartburn suffers concerned about the effects of long term medication use resort to simple changes in lifestyle.  Some whose bodies do not produce enough Hydrochloric acid( HCL) may seek supplements from health food stores.  Others simply change their diet and eating habits.  However, if the problem is linked to physiologic cause and not a pot of Fire Alarm chili, then medication may be your best option.

Whether it’s called pyrosis, acid indigestion or heartburn, this common digestive problem can be a minor discomfort or a major health issue.  Depending on the cause of the symptoms, treatment options may vary. While many of the current medications available may have some uncommon side effects, people should always remember to use medications as instructed and consult your physician regarding concerns or troubling side effects.

More about this author: Ramona Taylor

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