Is Heartburn Medicine Responsible For Kidney Complications?

Is your heartburn medicine bad for your kidneys? The use of certain heartburn drugs may increase the risk of developing kidney disease, according to research recently published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology. The research is the most recent of several studies pointing to the risks associated with proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) that include Nexium®, Prilosec®, and Prevacid®. PPIs treat heartburn, indigestion, and acid reflux by reducing the amount of acid produced by the stomach.

Doctors and researchers aren’t exactly sure why PPIs appear to damage the kidneys, and there is still there is no direct proof that the heartburn medicines are responsible for kidney diseases. The researchers determined that patients using PPIs were more apt to suffer kidney disease or kidney failure over a five-year period than patients using other heartburn medicines. One of the researchers and a kidney specialist with the Veterans Affairs St. Louis Health Care System, Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly admits, “I cannot say for certain that this is cause-and-effect.”

Despite the lack of a “smoking gun” that ties PPIs directly to kidney disease, Dr. Al-Aly recommends that patients should use PPIs only when it’s genuinely a medical necessity, and only for the shortest possible length of time. PPIs are usually effective heartburn remedies, so many people turn to them when they’re really not needed, or when the need is real, they use too much. “I think people see these medications at the drug store and assume they’re completely safe,” Dr. Al-Aly explained. “But there’s growing evidence they’re not as safe as we’ve thought.


One heartburn specialist agrees. Dr. F. Paul Buckley is the surgical director of the Heartburn & Acid Reflux Center at the Scott & White Clinic in Round Rock, Texas. Dr. Buckley says that for occasional heartburn, PPIs are not the appropriate medication. Before using PPIs, you should be certain that you are suffering gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), with stomach acids routinely rising into the esophagus.

Actually, according to figures from the U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, about one in five adults in the United States suffers with GERD. Heartburn is a GERD symptom, and anyone who experiences heartburn twice or more a week may have GERD, according to the Institute. Dr. Buckley says that PPIs work well for patients with more serious reflux, and if someone has inflammation in the esophagus or an ulcer, PPIs can give those situations the opportunity to heal.

Previously, PPIs have been linked to an inflammatory kidney disease called acute interstitial nephritis, according to Dr. Pradeep Arora, an associate professor and nephrologist at the SUNY Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Science. Dr. Arora’s own study looked at more than 24,000 patients who developed chronic kidney disease between 2001 and 2008. The doctor says, “It is very reasonable to assume that PPIs themselves can cause chronic kidney disease.”

The recently published findings are derived from a study of more than 173,000 VA patients who were given a PPI and 20,000 other patients given heartburn drugs called H2-blockers. H2-blockers include Pepcid®, Tagamet®, and Zantac®. Over the study’s five-year period, 15 percent of the PPI users were diagnosed with a kidney disease but only 11 percent of those using H2-blockers were diagnosed with a kidney disease.

Fewer than 0.2 percent of the patients studied suffered end-stage renal failure, but the odds for end-stage renal failure were nearly doubled among the patients using PPIs. And according to Dr. Al-Aly, the risk of kidney disease grows as patients continue to use PPIs over time. Patients using the drugs for more than a year had three times the risk of kidney failure as those who used the drugs for a month or less.


How do PPIs cause or contribute to kidney disease – if they’re a factor at all? Previous research has linked PPIs with acute kidney inflammation, and some persons taking PPIs may develop kidney inflammation that leads to chronic kidney disease. Other researchers believe that PPIs reduce the body’s magnesium level and that a higher magnesium level is necessary for healthy kidneys. PPIs block stomach acids and reduce the body’s ability to absorb particular nutrients including magnesium.

Thousands of heartburn sufferers take proton pump inhibitors for heartburn without reporting any additional medical complications, but Dr. Buckley insists these people should be aware of the possible risks of PPIs, adding that, “They should also be aware we have really good alternatives.” Even TV’s Dr. Oz says, “Trouble is, up to two-thirds of people who take PPIs don’t really need them.”

If you suffer from a kidney disease and a physician prescribes the wrong medication, and if your condition declines as a result, you may be a victim of medical malpractice, and you should discuss your situation with an experienced medical malpractice attorney. With over twenty million chronic kidney disease sufferers in the United States, the opportunities for medical malpractice are abundant, and it happens much too often to kidney disease patients.


When someone struggles with chronic kidney disease, you rightly expect that the medications that are prescribed will help you. If they don’t, you’ve probably been given an improper medication, and you’re probably, at that point, a victim of medical malpractice. If you or someone close to you is struggling with kidney disease and becomes a medical malpractice victim, discuss your case, your rights, and your legal options with an experienced kidney diseases attorney.

The law precisely defines medical malpractice. It is a violation of the “reasonable standard of care” provided by most physicians and other healthcare professionals. Sometimes, it’s difficult for a kidney disease patient to know if he or she is a malpractice victim. Every medical malpractice case is different, and every claim of malpractice must be comprehensively examined from both the medical and legal perspectives.

If you don’t treat them, diseased or damaged kidneys may stop working – completely. Loss of kidney function is a serious and sometimes fatal condition. The good news is that a number of treatment alternatives are available for kidney disease patients, and there is no reason to avoid a test for CKD if you are in a high-risk group – if you are over 60, African-American, or have a family history of kidney disease. These include dialysis, kidney transplants, and more. For more info, head to The Kidney Foundation’s website.

By: Jed Kurzban

Medical malpractice attorney Jed Kurzban graduated from the University of Alabama in 1992 and earned his Juris Doctor from the University of Miami School of Law in 1995. He is a member of the Dade County Bar Association, the Florida Bar Association, the American Association for Justice, the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers, and the American Bar Association. Mr. Kurzban is happily married and the father of two.