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What are proton pump inhibitor drugs, and why are lawsuits being filed over them?

Proton pump inhibitor drugs, or PPIs, are a class of drug used to treat conditions such as heartburn, acid reflux, and ulcers. Since the 1990 launch of the first PPI here in the United States, the market for PPI drugs has exploded. It’s estimated that over 15 million Americans are currently taking these drugs. Here’s what you need to know about what these drugs are, what they’re used for, and whether or not they’re really safe at all.

What Is a Proton Pump Inhibitor?

A PPI is a drug designed bring relief to digestive symptoms by greatly reducing acid production in the stomach. All PPI drugs function by blocking tiny cellular “pumps” in the lining of the stomach that are responsible for the creation and secretion of acid into the stomach. Some of the most common brands of PPI drug include:

  • Omeprazole (Prilosec)
  • Esomeprazole (Nexium)
  • Lansoprazole (Prevacid)
  • Rabeprazole (Aciphex)
  • Pantoprazole (Protonix)
  • Omeprazole with Sodium Bicarbonate (Zegerid)
  • Dexlansoprazole (Dexilant)

Prilosec, Zegerid, Nexium, and Prevacid are all now available over-the-counter (OTC) and relatively cheaply at most drug stores in the United States. Aciphex, Protonix, and Dexilant still require a prescription.

What Conditions Are PPIs Used For?

There are several diseases or health conditions that PPIs are commonly used for, including the following:

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Treatment of stomach ulcers or duodenal ulcers
  • Prevention of ulcers when taking other medications
  • Treatment for H. pylori, a stomach bacterium that can cause ulcers

PPI drugs may also be used to treat some less common conditions in which it is favorable or important to reduce the acid content of the stomach, such as Zollinger-Ellison syndrome.

What Are the Risks of PPI Drugs?

While these drugs have been sold as “safe and effective” by the pharmaceutical companies, all may not be as well as it seems. Just about every drug has side effects that vary from person to person, but PPIs have been linked to multiple serious and potentially fatal conditions, including:

  • Chronic kidney disease (CKD). Multiple studies have linked PPI with chronic kidney disease, which can lead to kidney failure. This study from April 2016 showed that PPI users had 28% more risk of developing chronic kidney disease versus patients taking non-PPI drugs, and PPI users who developed CKD were 96% more likely to go on to suffer kidney failure.
  • Clostridium difficile (C. diff) infections. In 2012, the FDA released a safety announcement regarding the link between PPI drugs and this life-threatening bacterial infection of the intestinal lining. Symptoms include fever, extreme and frequent diarrhea that may have blood or pus content, cramping and abdominal pain, lack of appetite, and weight loss. It can also lead to a hole or tear in the intestinal wall, which is a life-threatening emergency.
  • Hypomagnesemia. The FDA issued a safety announcement in 2011 that PPI drugs are linked to low magnesium levels in the body. A magnesium deficiency is an electrolytic imbalance, which can cause weakness and exhaustion, cramps, tremors, heart palpitations and abnormal heart rhythms, seizures, coma, and—if left untreated—even death.

PPI drugs have also been linked to osteoporosis and bone fractures, dementia, and acute interstitial nephritis, a type of kidney inflammation. There have also been reported cases of toxic epidermal necrolysis, a condition that can result in severe pain, blistering, and peeling as large areas of skin all over the body die and fall off.

How to Get Help

If you or someone in your family has suffered from a serious medical condition as a result of taking a PPI drug, know that you are not alone. Lawsuits from all across the country are beginning to add up as patients suffering from PPI-related kidney problems go on the offensive, fighting the greedy drug companies to receive compensation for medical expenses, including dialysis or transplant costs, as well as lost wages, pain and suffering, and more.

Wayne Wright LLP has been standing up for the rights of consumers and patients against “big pharma” for decades, and we would like to hear from you. To discuss your situation with an experienced attorney who knows how to help, call us at 800-237-3334 today for a free case evaluation.