Is Long Term Use of Acid Reflux Medicine Safe?

Is Long Term Use of Acid Reflux Medicine Safe?

If you have severe heartburn more than twice a week, you’re probably looking at ways you can relieve the pain. Acid reflux medication taken daily is one of those options that makes it possible to sleep better at night and eat foods you enjoy. They’re available over-the-counter (OTC) or can be prescribed by your doctor. What do these medications actually do to prevent acid reflux and are they safe for everyday use for long periods of time?

Available Medications for Acid Reflux

Medicines for occasional heartburn symptoms are available over-the-counter (OTC) and taken now and then. In fact, occasional heartburn may not be acid reflux at all! But for those who have heartburn frequently along with other symptoms of acid reflux such as a sour taste in your mouth, regurgitation (usually without vomiting), and even difficulty swallowing, there is a higher likelihood that you’re experiencing GERD. What’s the difference between GERD and acid reflux?

  • Acid Reflux is a medical condition caused by digestive acids that back up into the esophagus. It can range from mild to severe, and is caused when the muscle that joins your esophagus and stomach weakens and allows digestive acids to rise into the esophagus.
  • GERD is a severe, chronic form of acid reflux. It may result in inflammation of the esophagus (esophagitis).
  • Heartburn is the symptom you feel when digestive acids aggravate the delicate lining of the esophagus. Heartburn can cause mild to severe chest pain in the center of your chest, typically. It can also cause pain that feels sharp, burning, or like a tightening sensation. Pain may be located behind the breastbone or along your neck and thro

Acid reflux medications are designed to be taken every day to decrease the amount of acid made by the stomach and thus having less acid backing up into the esophagus. The two most common types of medicines used for heartburn include Histamine 2 (H2) Blockers and Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPI).

H2 Blockers for Mild to Moderate Acid Reflux

H2 blockers are commonly used to treat mild to moderate acid reflux and are often effective if you've never had treatment. H2 Blockers are often taken 30 minutes before meals to block histamines that stimulate acid production. They can also be taken before bed to eliminate nighttime heartburn. Common H2 Blockers include

  • Cimetidine (Tagamet)
  • Famotidine (Pepcid, Fluxid)
  • Nizatidine (Axid, Axid AR)
  • Ranitidine (Zantac)

Proton Pump Inhibitors for Consistent Acid Reflux

Proton Pump Inhibitors are one of the most common drug classes today, used to block acid more effectively for a longer period of time than H2 Blockers. These need to be taken everyday for the course of treatment for it to work best.

The biggest difference between PPIs and H2 Blockers is that PPIs are considered to be more effective against esophageal inflammation from GERD. Some common PPIs available OTC or by prescription for your doctor include:

  • Omeprazole (Prilosec, Zegerid)
  • Lansoprazole (Prevacid)
  • Esomeprazole (Nexium)
  • Dexlansoprazole (Dexilant)

Side Effects of Long-Term Use of Acid Reflux Medicines

Both H2 Blockers and PPIs have been known to cause mild side effects including headache, diarrhea, nausea, gas, and sore throat. These effects are usually mild and temporary.

While most doctors agree that acid reflux medicines are safe to use for short periods of time, the long term effects of these medicines are being studied more carefully with findings you should be aware of.

In recent years, long-term PPI use has been linked to:

  • Increased risk of stomach cancer: PPIs block the production of acid that can potentially damage the esophagus. Your body responds to this action by producing more cells to increase a hormone called gastrin that produces acid. Too much gastrin can promote gastrointestinal tumor growth.
  • Pneumonia: Reduced acid levels allow some bacteria to thrive. If stomach contents travel up the esophagus, bacteria can be inhaled into the lungs.
  • Increased risk of bone fracture: Increased gastrin production as a result of taking PPIs can inhibit calcium absorption, making bones more fragile.
  • Heart Attack: It's recently been discovered that the risk of heart attack in adults is increased by as much as 20% with the long term use of PPIs.
  • Dementia: Studies show that dementia could be a side effect of long-term use.

You should also be aware of drug interactions that can happen if you’re using a PPI and some medications taken to lower your risk of a heart attack (like Plavix and aspirin). Using both can make both medications work less effectively. Talk to your doctor about all of the medications you’re taking, whether over-the-counter or prescription.

Another Option for Successful Long Term Acid Reflux Treatment

As the dangers of the long term use of medications are being recognized, physicians are seeking other options. All too often, GERD isn't a simple matter of discomfort or eliminating one or two favorites from your diet. Besides the painful side effects of chronic heartburn, GERD can cause serious damage to your esophagus. For patients who want to avoid the long-term side effects associated with medications, surgery may be the answer.

Dr. Howard uses a few different techniques for helping patients with acid reflux.

Laparoscopic Acid Reflux Surgery

During this procedure, small abdominal incisions are used to strengthen the valve between the esophagus and the stomach. Dr. Howard, a reflux surgeon, inserts narrow tools and a tiny video camera into the abdomen where the surgery is performed. The procedure is completed by wrapping the upper portion of the stomach around the lower part of the esophagus to increase valve strength and naturally prevent reflux. Learn more about Nissen acid reflux surgery.


This procedure doesn't require an incision, and takes less than an hour. It’s most often used for patients who do not want laparoscopic surgery or are not good candidates for laparoscopic acid reflux surgery. While under general anesthesia, a device is inserted through the mouth and into the GI tract. Dr. Howard then uses it to reconstruct the body's antireflux valve, restoring the body's natural barrier against acid reversing up the esophagus. Learn more about TIF for acid reflux.

LINX System

This outpatient procedure can free you from taking medications without altering your stomach. Through the placement of a small band of magnets enclosed in titanium beads, the sphincter between your stomach and your esophagus will remain closed to prevent reflux. This magnetic bond is broken briefly when you swallow to allow normal function while eating. The magnetic bond mimics the way a strong esophageal sphincter naturally prevents heartburn. Learn more about the Linx® System.

If lifestyle changes aren't helping your chronic acid reflux symptoms and you are not comfortable with the potential side effects of medication, surgery can provide the solution you've been looking for. Acid reflux surgeries have minimal complications and require little recovery time. Perhaps best of all, they can be a permanent solution that frees you from medication. Learning all your options for relief of chronic heartburn and acid reflux can help you avoid serious complications in the future and allow you to live a more comfortable life today. Schedule a consultation with Dr. Howard at our office in The Woodlands.

Learn more about acid reflux and what you can do to help find relief.

Categories: Acid Reflux & GERD

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