Heartburn Drugs Tied to Higher Pneumonia Risk in Older Adults

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A study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society adds to the growing body of evidence that long-term proton pump inhibitor use in older adults may not be entirely safe.

Proton pump inhibitors are commonly prescribed to treat gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and ulcers. Researchers in the United Kingdom looked at a large database containing medical records from many private practices in the United Kingdom. They identified 75,050 patients age 60 and older who had been prescribed a proton pump inhibitor for at least one year, as well as an age- and gender-matched control group that was not prescribed the drug.

In the second year of being prescribed proton pump inhibitors, patients in that group were 82 percent more likely to be diagnosed with pneumonia than those in the control group. Proton pump inhibitors, which work by suppressing the production of acid in the stomach, may create a more hospitable environment in the upper gastrointestinal tract, allowing pathogens to survive and then travel to the lungs.

This study, which was published in 2018, only assesses the relationship in those patients who were prescribed a proton pump inhibitor; it does not assess whether the patients were actually taking the medication. The researchers point out that the link between proton pump inhibitors and pneumonia needs more investigation, and no one should discontinue medication use without consulting his or her doctor.