Lee's Summit, Mo. -- If you take a common type of medicine for heartburn, here's a warning to digest: Those drugs could be raising your chances of kidney disease.
Millions of Americans take drugs called proton pump inhibitors or PPIs for heartburn and acid reflux. Brands such as Prilosec and Nexium are available without a prescription.
The new research looked at thousands of patients over many years. PPI users were between 20 and 50 percent more likely to develop chronic kidney disease than those who didn't use them. That was even after accounting for other differences.
Researchers say the drugs could be contributing to the kidney disease epidemic which affects 20 million Americans. Diabetes and high blood pressure are the most common risk factors.
Dr. Marc Taormina with Midwest Gastroenterology says even though the research only shows an association, not proof that PPIs cause kidney disease, it should serve as a warning.
"The bottom line is this drug should not be used over the counter for a long period of time. It should be under a physician's supervision and it should be managed by the physician with monitoring of kidney function," said Dr. Taormina.
The heartburn medicines have also been linked to a higher risk of heart attacks and bone fractures. By some estimates, up to two-thirds of people on PPIs don't have a verified reason for taking them.
"Symptom control is important, but if the patient does not need to be on these strong acid reducers known as PPIs, they could be moved down to another class of drugs called H2 blockers," said Dr. Taormina.
That class of drugs includes Zantac, Tagamet and Pepcid.
The new research from Johns Hopkins University will be presented next week at an American Society of Nephrology conference.