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Acid Reflux Medication: How Much Is Too Much?

Acid Reflux Medication: How Much Is Too Much?

In the 1970’s TV sitcom Sanford and Son, whenever Fred Sanford (Redd Foxx) got disagreeable news—usually about a failed money-making scheme—he’d place his hand over his heart exclaiming, “This is the big one! I’m coming Elizabeth.” Of course, there was nothing wrong with the character’s heart.

However, a serious flare of acid reflux can feel like a heart attack. Luckily, proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and histamine 2 (H2) blockers ease the discomfort. But a study in the journal Gut found folks who use PPIs (Prevacid, Prilosec and Nexium) for extended stretches are at risk of developing stomach cancer (even after taking antibiotics to eliminate H. pylori infection, a known cause of stomach cancer). The risk goes up five-fold after more than a year on the meds, more than six-fold after two-plus years and over eight-fold after three-plus. Another study indicated prolonged PPI use was associated with a doubling of heart attack risk. H2 blockers such as Pepcid and Zantac were found to have no link to stomach cancer or increased heart attack risk.

The scoop: PPIs are generally safe if taken as directed. Prilosec advises you to use the product once every 24 hours for 14 days; four months later you may repeat a 14-day course. But many folks use over-the-counter PPIs for months or years.

The right moves:

  1. Don’t take PPIs for extended periods of time without your doc’s permission.
  2. Try easing heartburn by making changes to your diet and reducing your alcohol and caffeine intake.

Medically reviewed in December 2019.

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