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Heartburn Medicine May Put Your Bones at Risk

The “purple pill” and its brethren are probably no strangers to your television screen — or your medicine cabinet. These heartburn drugs, called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are the most popular acid-suppressive medications used worldwide.

For this reason, recent research linking PPIs to an increased risk of hip, wrist, and spine fractures has doctors alarmed. Recent studies have found that people who took PPIs were significantly more likely to break their hipbone or any other bone.

Behind the burn

Heartburn occurs when the muscle between your stomach and esophagus weakens, letting stomach acid back up into your throat. PPIs stop your stomach from producing most of this acid. This eases painful burning symptoms and can also treat ulcers.

But the relief may come with unintended side effects. Changing the acidity of your digestive system affects your body’s ability to absorb bone-boosting calcium. Long-term use of PPIs may also cause vitamin B12 deficiency, damaging your nerves and increasing your risk for falls.

The FDA recently issued a warning about the increased fracture risk from PPIs. People most at risk, it noted, include:

  • Those who take prescription-strength rather than over-the-counter formulas

  • Adults ages 50 and older

  • Those who take PPIs frequently or for long periods of time, for a year or longer

Another form of heartburn medication, called a histamine-2 receptor antagonist, blocks about 70 percent of your stomach acid. This type of medication hasn’t shown the same link to fractures.

Other ways to fight the fire

Be sure to talk with your health care provider about taking over-the-counter PPIs. Your doctor can assess your fracture risk. If it’s high, lower doses or different treatments may relieve your heartburn.            

Lifestyle changes can also help. Try these drug-free solutions:

  • Avoid foods and drinks that make your heartburn worse. Common culprits include coffee, citrus fruits, tomato-based dishes, full-fat dairy, and alcohol.

  • Don’t smoke, or quit if you do.

  • To relieve pain, take acetaminophen. aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen can irritate your stomach.

  • Don’t wear tight-fitting clothing.

  • Eat small meals throughout the day, and stop at least 2 hours before going to sleep.

  • When in bed, raise your head 6 inches above your stomach with a wedge support.