“People who take certain popular medicines for heartburn, indigestion and acid reflux may want to proceed more cautiously, researchers reported.

The drugs, known as proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs), appear to significantly elevate the chances of developing chronic kidney disease, according to a study involving more than 250,000 people. An estimated 15 million Americans use PPIs, which are sold by prescription and over-the-counter under a variety of brand names, including Nexium, Prilosec and Prevacid.”

--“Popular Acid Reflux Drugs Are Linked To Kidney Disease Risk,” Rob Stein, All Things Considered/NPR, 1/11/16

This noteworthy study, first reported in JAMA Internal Medicine, deserves attention because of the correlation between kidney disease and widely used drugs for acid reflux. “Correlation is not the same as cause,” cautions Dr. David Shute, Medical Director, GreenField Health, “rather, it means that there could be a link between the two, especially since the same trend was revealed in two independent studies that involved more than 250,000 people.”

What does this mean if you or your loved one takes a PPI such as Nexium, Prilosec or Prevacid regularly? Shute advises you to take note and stay tuned. “Further research is needed,” he says. “We need to wait and see what future studies show.”

PPIs can be very helpful in lessening the severity of acid reflux or GERD, he continues, which improves the quality of life for many people. That said, it’s also worth considering nondrug-based approaches, such as losing weight, decreasing alcohol and caffeine use, and elevating the head of the bed six to 8 inches to minimize esophageal reflux while sleeping.

It’s always wise to revisit the need for a PPI if you’ve been taking it for a long time. “Often the need for a medicine changes over time,” Shute says, especially if you’ve lost weight or changed your diet.

However, if you are now taking a PPI for GERD and want to make a change in treatment, don’t stop taking the PPI without discussing it first with your clinician, he adds.

You also could try a non-PPI drug, such as cimetidine, famotidine, or ranitidine, all of which are H2 blockers. “Though this type of drug also reduces stomach acid, it works differently than a PPI,” Shute says. “Another option for occasional, mild heartburn is an antacid like Tums, Mylanta or Maalox.”