Are Nexium and Prilosec Too Popular?

The popular heartburn drugs Prilosec and Nexium do not appear to spur heart problems, according to preliminary results of U.S. and Canadian probes announced Thursday, Aug. 9, 2007.
AP / file

Five studies in the raise new concerns about the third most popular class of prescription drugs in America - proton pump inhibitors - very effective at lowering stomach acid and taken for acid reflux and stomach problems. About 113.4 million prescriptions for these drugs are filled each year, accounting for $13.5 billion in sales.

These drugs work well to lower stomach acid, but they may cause some serious side effects, reports CBS News medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook. Researchers, for example, found a 25 percent increased risk of bone fractures in women and in both sexes - almost 75 percent increased risk of a serious intestinal infection Clostridium Difficile - known as C Diff.

"They can change the bacteria that live in your body and therefore possibly predispose you to an infection," said Dr. Christine Fissora, a gastroenterologist at New York Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Previous studies have found patients on these drugs have a higher chance of getting pneumonia.

An editorial in Monday's Journal said more than half of prescriptions for these drugs are unnecessary - they're often given for complaints that are not relieved by lowering stomach acid.

"We really need to get better at making the diagnosis and number two we should only give these medicines to patients who really need them," Frissora said.

This could be another example of Americans relying on a pill to solve a health problem when there may be safer alternatives. If you have acid reflux, try to avoid things that increase acid like alcohol, caffeine, spicy and fatty foods. Don't eat within three hours before bedtime and try elevating your head more while sleeping. Other options? If you smoke, quit and try to lose excess weight.

  • Jonathan LaPook

    Dr. Jonathan LaPook is the chief medical correspondent for CBS News. Follow him on Twitter at @DrLaPook