Even OTC Nexium has risks
A new study published last week ties the common heartburn drug, Nexium, to an increased risk of kidney damage.
Nexium (esomeprazole) belongs to a class of drugs called Proton Pump Inhibitors, or PPIs. It was approved by the FDA to treat gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) in 2001.
Use of proton pump inhibitors (PPI), a group of drugs that reduce the production of stomach acid, increases the risk of chronic kidney disease by 20 percent and raises the risk of kidney failure by four times.
Nexium isn’t the oldest PPI; Prilosec (omeprazole) was first. Prevacid (lansoprazole) is another common PPI.
All are available by prescription or over-the-counter (OTC), and generics are available, as well.
I’m picking on Nexium because it’s had the best marketing over the years, so everyone is familiar with “the purple pill.”
Nexium and the other PPIs are best sellers. After all, who doesn’t suffer from occasional heartburn?
But even though PPIs may have a place treating severe heartburn or GERD, that doesn’t mean they should be used indiscriminately. That not only wastes money, but can cause harm.
…up to 70 percent of patients overuse these medications without benefit and are subjected to unnecessary adverse effects.
I’ve written a couple other posts about possible harms of Nexium and the other PPIs:
Alternatives to Nexium and PPIs
I would only use a PPI under the supervision of a physician. Buying a generic OTC may be cheaper, but it depends on your insurance coverage. In some cases, name-brand Nexium by prescription may be the least expensive.
Crazy, I know.
For other ways to treat occasional heartburn, check out my post Home remedies for heartburn.
Herbals teas made with chamomile, peppermint, ginger or fennel have been shown to relieve symptoms.
Over-the-counter Chewable or liquid antacids can treat minor heartburn or acid stomach. Look for products that contain sodium bicarbonate (Alka-Seltzer), calcium carbonate (Tums, Rolaids, Mylanta), or aluminum hydroxide (Gaviscon).
More frequent heartburn can be treated prophylactically with an over-the-counter H2 blocker (Pepcid, Tagament or Zantac).
If you have heartburn more than occasionally, however, tell your care provider and let him or her know what OTC products you are using.
All OTC drugs have risks
The bottom line is that even drugs sold without needing a prescription can be harmful if used improperly.
Don’t assume OTC is the same as safe!
Here are my tips for saving money and using OTC products wisely:
- Know what ingredient or ingredients you need. If you’re unsure, ask the pharmacist. Or Drugs.com has a good OTC drug database.
- Buy generic.
- Read the label to make sure the drug doesn’t interact with other medications, or shouldn’t be taken by people with certain health conditions or allergies.
- Follow the directions, both for dosing and length of treatment.
I don’t think Nexium is a bad drug. I just think it’s too easy to buy at the drugstore, and I know so many people who don’t bother to read the safety information on the label. They take Nexium for months or years, even though the box says not to exceed two weeks.
So, be skeptical about drug claims, use all drugs with caution, and stay safe!