Many patients have started considering lawsuits, now that popular heartburn drug Prevacid has been linked to an increased risk for chronic kidney disease and kidney failure. While these conditions, which impair the kidneys’ ability to filter waste from body fluids, can be fatal, neither the FDA nor the drug’s manufacturer has issued a warning about this newest risk.
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This isn’t the first time that Prevacid, which belongs to a class of heartburn drugs known as “proton pump inhibitors,” has come under fire over devastating side effects. In recent years, the drugs have been hit by numerous lawsuits over a risk of broken bones. Now, legal experts believe that thousands of patients may have viable Prevacid lawsuits after suffering from kidney impairment.
Two recent studies have found that people taking proton pump inhibitors are more likely to suffer chronic kidney disease than patients who take alternative treatments. More troubling, one of the papers discovered that Prevacid patients may be nearly twice as likely to suffer kidney failure, a devastating result of progressive kidney impairment.
These results have many people worried. But for patients who have already suffered kidney disease, there are more pressing concerns – including the rising cost of medical treatment. Attorneys believe that legal action, filing a personal injury lawsuit, could be a solution for many of these people.
Prevacid is one of several proton pump inhibitor drugs that took the world of gastroenterology by storm three decades ago.
Almost immediately after the first of these drugs, Prilosec, was approved, doctors discovered a new, and effective, way to treat conditions like acid reflux disease and peptic ulcers. Proton pump inhibitors cut off the production of gastric acid at its source, short-circuiting a system of enzymes in the digestive tract. In fact, proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs, were so effective that physicians began prescribing them for unapproved uses, including simple heartburn and routine indigestion.
By the early 2000s, researchers around the world were criticizing their peers for “overprescribing” drugs like Prevacid, hooking patients on a group of medications that can be hard, if not impossible, to stop taking. Many doctors expressed even more serious concerns, noting how little the medical community knew about the long-term side effects of proton pump inhibitors.
Now that proton pump inhibitors have become one of the most widely-prescribed drug classes in the world, scientists have had a chance to investigate their potential risks in detail. Their results have been troubling.
From bone fractures and pneumonia to dementia and kidney failure, proton pump inhibitors like Prevacid have been linked to a staggering array of adverse health effects.
It’s important to note from the outset that most of the current studies don’t focus on Prevacid specifically. In fact, researchers now choose to lump proton pump inhibitors together and study them as a group.
It wasn’t always this way. In the 80s and 90s, investigators were more likely to review the potential effects of one drug in isolation, wary of assuming that every proton pump inhibitor would have the same consequences. For the most part, that stage of the research is complete.
Today, scientists believe that the risks associated with proton pump inhibitors are “class effects.” In other words, each of the drugs, whether it’s Prevacid or Nexium, have been implicated in harm.
The drugs themselves, in terms of chemical composition, are very similar, and we now have evidence that they cause similar types of side effects.
This was the conclusion of researchers at the American Society of Gastroenterology, who warned their fellows in 2004 of a link between proton pump inhibitors and acute interstitial nephritis. After identifying 59 cases of the acute kidney condition in Australian medical records, the scientists wrote:
“All 5 commercially available PPIs were implicated in these cases […] With the ever more widespread use of this class of medications, PPI-induced AIN is likely to become more frequent. There is now evidence to incriminate all the commercially available PPIs, suggesting there is a class effect.”
Acute interstitial nephritis is similar to an allergic reaction, and it’s usually caused by a pharmaceutical medication. In reaction to an insulting chemical, the kidneys become inflamed, which can lead to long-term damage. In their 2004 report, the researchers from Australia warned of this possibility in no uncertain terms: “failure to recognize [the risk of proton pump inhibitors] might have catastrophic long-term consequences including chronic kidney disease.”
But this fear was only realized through medical research in 2016. An international team of researchers led by doctors at Johns Hopkins University looked at the members of two huge patient populations, searching for a correlation between proton pump inhibitors and chronic kidney disease.
They found it, publishing their results in February 2016 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
In one group, numbering 10,482 patients, people who took PPI drugs like Prevacid were around 50% more likely to develop chronic kidney disease. Compared to patients who took H2 antagonist antacids, like Zantac, the PPI users were 39% more likely to suffer chronic kidney disease. Using an analysis technique that tries to simulate the conditions of a controlled trial, they found an even higher risk, 79%.
In their second, even larger, group of patients, the team found similar results. In every analysis, proton pump inhibitor use was associated with an increased risk for chronic kidney disease. Tellingly, the risk appeared to increase, from 15% to 46%, depending on whether a patient took one or two pills per day.
Although this research is still new, some experts have begun to propose theories to explain the link. Chief among them is an association between magnesium, a mineral in the blood, and the impairment of kidney function.
Researchers have long known that Prevacid and other drugs in the class can lead to hypomagnesemia, in which a patient’s magnesium levels drop to dangerously low levels. In 2011, the US Food & Drug Administration warned the public about this risk. But now, the medical community is drawing a plausible connection between the decrease in magnesium and worsening renal function.
According to Renal & Urology News, Doctors at Johns Hopkins discovered that people with lower levels of magnesium are nearly 60% more likely to develop chronic kidney disease than patients with high levels of the mineral. Responding to the most recent paper in JAMA, Italian doctors seconded this finding, writing: “The authors touched on PPI-induced hypomagnesemia as a possible mediator of CKD worsening. We agree with and support this hypothesis.”
But the link may go even further. In their letter to the editor, the Italian researchers suggested that Prevacid’s effect on magnesium may in part explain the drug’s association with bone fractures. Magnesium is essential in maintaining the health and strength of bones, the physicians explain, which may explain why Prevacid has been linked to an increase in spine, forearm and wrist fractures.
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