Heartburn medications like proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) should not be taken for longer than two weeks at a time, but post-menopausal women should be especially cautious with reflux medicine. Studies show that extended use of PPIs could put women at risk for hip fractures. Since May is Women’s Health Month, let’s take a moment to focus on how these medicines can affect gastrointestinal health and bone health in women.
Pros and Cons of Proton Pump Inhibitors
PPIs like Nexium, Prevacid, Prilosec and Protonix are among the most powerful heartburn medications available without a prescription. They reduce the amount of acid produced by the stomach and are highly effective in treating gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), peptic ulcers, erosive esophagitis, and a precancerous condition known as Barrett's esophagus.
At first glance, PPIs seem to be the perfect solution for heartburn. They are effective, cheap and easy to obtain. But reducing stomach acid can cause serious health risks – like malabsorption of calcium, which can be particularly dangerous for post-menopausal women. Other side effects of PPI use include C. difficile infections, which can cause chronic diarrhea and pneumonia; low magnesium levels, which can cause muscle spasms; heart palpitations and convulsions.
Hamed Khalili, M.D., of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, found that long-term use of PPIs may increase fracture risk by 35 percent in older women and by up to 50 percent in smokers. Risk increased with longer PPI usage, but risk disappeared after women stopped taking PPIs for two years (Women’s Health Research Institute).
PPIs are not considered harmful to everyone, however, but it is important to take them as directed. You may find that a less potent acid reducer like an H-2 blocker (Pepcid, Zantac or Tagamet) works just as well, but first, consider changing your eating and lifestyle habits.
Home Remedies for Heartburn
Treating your heartburn may be as simple as making lifestyle modifications like:
- Eating smaller meals
- Eating at least two hours before bedtime
- Quitting smoking
- Avoiding alcohol
- Decreasing caffeine
- Wearing loose-fitting clothing
- Avoiding heartburn trigger foods
- Losing weight, if necessary
A GI Specialist Can Help
Make an appointment with a gastroenterologist to discuss how you can manage your heartburn without sacrificing your bone health. Ask about your risk for fractures and get a bone density scan if your doctor suggests it. Don’t forget to get enough calcium, vitamin D and exercise, and you’ll be on your way to bone strength and digestive health.