As a nation, we are over-prescribed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about half of Americans have taken at least one prescription drug in the past 30 days. Even more shockingly, a quarter of Americans have taken three or more drugs during that period, and 12 percent have taken five or more. All told, Americans fill more than 860 million prescriptions a year.
While many of these prescriptions are essential for treating acute or chronic illness, unnecessary prescriptions can put you at high risk for unforeseen drug interactions. That’s why we asked Tessa Spencer, PharmD, a community pharmacy and functional medicine specialist, which drugs are most blatantly prescribed. Read on to learn her answer, which may surprise you.
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Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are used to treat ulcers, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), esophageal wall erosion, and specific GI disorders. They work by suppressing the acidity in the stomach lining, giving your stomach and esophageal tissues time to heal. While some PPIs are available as over-the-counter medications, others are prescription only. According to drug watchthis class of drugs is one of the most widely used in the world: approximately 15 million Americans use PPIs each year.
Spencer states that PPIs such as Prilosec are among the most commonly prescribed drugs on the market. Many patients taking PPIs don’t have a documented gastrointestinal diagnosis that justifies their use of this drug, she says.
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PPIs are generally considered safe when taken as directed for the recommended length of time. However, Spencer cautions that PPIs can have a range of serious side effects for some patients. She pointed us to a 2019 study published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine Researchsuggesting that PPIs increase the risk of bone fractures, gastric polyps, low blood magnesium levels, Clostridium difficile infections, and anemia with long-term use.
drug watch adds that those taking PPIs are at increased risk for kidney problems and heart attacks. “Thousands of people have filed PPI lawsuits alleging that PPIs have caused kidney failure and other injuries,” the site states.
Studies show that patients regularly push the boundaries of what is considered safe when it comes to duration of PPI use. “PPIs are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for 10 days for the treatment of Helicobacter pylori, up to two weeks for ‘heartburn’, up to eight weeks for GERD, and for two to six months for ulcers. A community survey, 60 percent stayed on PPIs for more than a year and 31 percent stayed on them for three or more years,” the 2019 study says.
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Spencer notes that many people continue to take PPIs longer than they should because they experience rebound hyperacidity in the weeks after stopping. In fact, about half of patients experience symptomatic withdrawal, making it necessary to taper off the medication over the course of weeks.
Talk to your doctor if you need help tapering your PPI use, or if you think you’re experiencing side effects.
Best Life provides the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research and health authorities, but our content is not intended to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you are taking or any other health questions you may have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.
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