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ALERT: Popular Heartburn Drugs Could 'Silently' Cause Chronic Kidney Damage

Feb 23, 2017 11:22 AM EST

A new study from Washington University in St. Louis revealed that excessive consumption of popular heartburn drugs could lead to serious kidney problems.

The study, published in the journal Kidney International, also showed that the chronic kidney damage caused by the so-called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) could gradually develop without any warning signs or symptoms.

"Our results indicate kidney problems can develop silently and gradually over time, eroding kidney function and leading to long-term kidney damage or even renal failure," said Ziyad Al-Aly, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at Washington University's School of medicine and senior author of the study, in a press release. Ziyad cautioned patients to only use PPIs if needed and inform their doctors about it.

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For the study, the researchers analyzed the data of 144,032 people from the Department of Veterans Affairs databases. Among the participants, 125,596 were new users of PPIs while the remaining 18,436 were new users of another heartburn drug called H2 blockers.

Commonly, chronic kidney damage starts with acute kidney problems, which is characterized by too little urine leaving the body, fatigue and swelling in the legs and ankles. However, the researchers found that more than half of the participants in the PPIs group who developed chronic kidney damage and end-stage did not experience acute kidney problems.

Additionally, more than 80 percent of the participants in the PPIs group did not develop acute kidney problems over the five-year study period. On the other hand, 7.67 percent of the H2 blockers group develops chronic kidney damage without experiencing acute kidney problems and 1.27 percent developed end-stage renal failure.

These results suggest that the onset of acute kidney problems is not a reliable warning sign to detect the decline of kidney function among those who are taking PPIs. Furthermore, the researchers noted that clinicians should pay attention to the kidney function of their patients who use PPIs, despite the absence of acute kidney problems.

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