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reflux disease

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It's best to not eat right before bedtime and to avoid 'midnight snacks.' METRO photo
Salt use increases risk 70 percent

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

While occasional heartburn and regurgitation are common after a large meal, for some, this reflux results in more serious disease. Let’s look at the differences and treatments.

Reflux typically results in symptoms of heartburn and regurgitation, with stomach contents going backward up the esophagus. For some reason, the lower esophageal sphincter, the valve between the stomach and esophagus, inappropriately relaxes. No one is quite sure why it happens with some people and not others. Of course, a portion of reflux is physiologic (normal functioning), especially after a meal (1). As such, it typically doesn’t require medical treatment.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), on the other hand, differs in that it’s long-lasting and more serious, affecting as much as 28 percent of the U.S. population (2). This is one reason pharmaceutical firms give it so much attention, lining our drug store shelves with over-the-counter and prescription solutions.

GERD risk factors are diverse. They range from lifestyle — obesity, smoking cigarettes and diet — to medications, like calcium channel blockers and antihistamines. Other medical conditions, like hiatal hernia and pregnancy, also contribute (3). Dietary triggers include spicy, salty, or fried foods, peppermint, and chocolate.

Smoking and salt increase risk

One study showed that both smoking and salt consumption added to the risk of GERD significantly (4). Risk increased 70 percent in people who smoked. Surprisingly, people who used table salt regularly saw the same increased risk as seen with smokers.

Medication options

The most common and effective medications for the treatment of GERD are H2 receptor blockers (e.g., Zantac and Tagamet), which partially block acid production, and proton pump inhibitors (e.g., Nexium and Prevacid), which almost completely block acid production (5). Both classes of medicines have two levels: over-the-counter and prescription strength. Here, I will focus on proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), for which more than 90 million prescriptions are written every year in the U.S. (6).

The most frequently prescribed PPIs include Prilosec (omeprazole) and Protonix (pantoprazole). They have demonstrated efficacy for short-term use in the treatment of Helicobacter pylori-induced (bacteria overgrowth in the gut) peptic ulcers, GERD symptoms and complication prevention and gastric ulcer prophylaxis associated with NSAID use (aspirin, ibuprofen, etc.) as well as upper gastrointestinal bleeds.

However, they are often used long-term as maintenance therapy for GERD. PPIs used to be considered to have mild side effects. Unfortunately, evidence is showing that this may not be true. Most of the data in the package inserts is based on short-term studies lasting weeks, not years. The landmark study supporting long-term use approval was only one year, not 10 years. However, maintenance therapy usually continues over many years.

Side effects that have occurred after years of use are increased risk of bone fractures and calcium malabsorption; Clostridium difficile, a bacterial infection in the intestines; potential vitamin B12 deficiencies; and weight gain (7).

PPI risks

The FDA warned that patients who use PPIs may be at increased risk of a bacterial infection called C. difficile. This is a serious infection that occurs in the intestines and requires treatment with antibiotics. Unfortunately, it only responds to a few antibiotics and that number is dwindling. In the FDA’s meta-analysis, 23 of 28 studies showed increased risk of infection. Patients need to contact their physicians if they develop diarrhea when taking PPIs and the diarrhea doesn’t improve (8).

Suppressing hydrochloric acid produced in the stomach over long periods of time may result in malabsorption issues. In a study where PPIs were associated with B12 malabsorption, it usually took at least three years’ duration to cause this effect. B12 was not absorbed properly from food, but the PPIs did not affect B12 levels from supplementation (9). Therefore, if you are taking a PPI chronically, it is worth getting your B12 and methylmalonic acid (a metabolite of B12) levels checked and discussing supplementation with your physician for a deficiency.

Fiber and exercise

A number of modifications can improve GERD, such as raising the head of the bed about six inches, not eating prior to bedtime and obesity treatment, to name a few (10). In the same study already mentioned with smoking and salt, fiber and exercise both had the opposite effect, reducing the risk of GERD (5). The analysis by Journal Watch suggests that the fiber effect may be due to its ability to reduce nitric oxide production, a relaxant for the lower esophageal sphincter (11).

Obesity’s impact

In one study, obesity exacerbated GERD. What was interesting about the study is that researchers used manometry, which measures pressure, to show that obesity increases the pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter significantly (12). Intragastric (within the stomach) pressures were higher in both overweight and obese patients on inspiration and on expiration, compared to those with normal body mass index. This is yet another reason to lose weight.

Late night eating triggers 

Though it may be simple, it is one of the most powerful modifications we can make to avoid GERD. A study that showed a 700 percent increased risk of GERD for those who ate within three hours of bedtime, compared to those who ate four hours or more prior to bedtime. Of note, this is 10 times the increased risk of the smoking effect (13). Therefore, it is best to not eat right before bedtime and to avoid “midnight snacks.”

Although there are a number of ways to treat GERD, the most comprehensive have to do with modifiable risk factors. Drugs have their place in the arsenal of choices, but lifestyle changes are the first — and most effective — approach in many instances. Consult your physician before stopping PPIs, since there may be rebound hyperacidity (high acid produced) if they are stopped abruptly.

References:

(1) Gastroenterol Clin North Am. 1996;25(1):75. (2) Gut. 2014 Jun; 63(6):871-80. (3) emedicinehealth.com. (4) Gut 2004 Dec.; 53:1730-1735. (5) Gastroenterology. 2008;135(4):1392. (6) Kane SP. Proton Pump Inhibitor, ClinCalc DrugStats Database, Version 2021.10. Updated September 15, 2021. Accessed October 12, 2021. (7) World J Gastroenterol. 2009;15(38):4794–4798. (8) www.FDA.gov/safety/medwatch/safetyinformation. (9) Linus Pauling Institute; lpi.oregonstate.edu. (10) Arch Intern Med. 2006;166:965-971. (11) JWatch Gastro. Feb. 16, 2005. (12) Gastroenterology 2006 Mar.; 130:639-649. (13) Am J Gastroenterol. 2005 Dec.;100(12):2633-2636.

Dr. David Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com. 

Stock photo
Long-term proton pump inhibitor use may have serious side effects

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

Reflux (GERD) disease, sometimes referred to as heartburn, though this is more of a symptom, is one of the most commonly treated diseases. In line with this, proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) have become one of the top-10 drug classes prescribed or taken in the United States.

The class of drugs called PPIs includes Prevacid (lansoprazole), Prilosec (omeprazole), Nexium (esomeprazole), Protonix (pantoprazole) and Aciphex (rabeprazole). Several of these medications are now available over-the-counter, rather than by prescription. When they were first approved, they were touted as having one of the cleanest side-effect profiles. This may still be true, if we use them correctly. They are intended to be used only for the short term. This can range from 7 to 14 days for over-the-counter PPIs to 4 to 8 weeks for prescription PPIs.

Dangers of long-term use

While PPI pre-approval trials were short-term, not longer than a year, many physicians put patients on these medications for decades. And the longer people are on them, the more complications arise. Among potential associations with long-term use are chronic kidney disease, dementia, bone fractures and Clostridium difficile, a bacterial infection of the gastrointestinal tract.

Though PPIs may increase the risk of a number of complications, keep in mind that none of the data are from randomized controlled trials (RCTs), which are the gold standard of studies, but mostly observational studies that suggest an association, not a link.

Chronic kidney disease

In two separate studies, results showed that there was an increase in chronic kidney disease with prolonged PPI use (1). All of the patients started the study with normal kidney function based on glomerular filtration rate (GFR). In the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study, there was a 50 percent increased risk of chronic kidney disease, while the Geisinger Health System cohort study found there was a modest 17 percent increased risk. 

The first study had a 13-year duration, and the second had about a six-year duration. Both demonstrated modest, but statistically significant, increased risk of chronic kidney disease. But as you can see, the medications were used on a chronic basis for years. In an accompanying editorial to these published studies, the author suggests that there is overuse of the medications or that they are used beyond the resolution of symptoms and suggests starting with diet and lifestyle modifications as well as a milder drug class, H2 blockers (2).

Dementia

Stock photo

A German study looked at health records from a large public insurer and found there was a 44 percent increased risk of dementia in the elderly who were using PPIs, compared to those who were not (3). These patients were at least age 75. The authors surmise that PPIs may cross the coveted blood-brain barrier and potentially increase beta-amyloid levels, markers for dementia. With occasional use, meaning once every 18 months for a few weeks to a few months, there was a much lower increased risk of 16 percent.

The researchers also suggested that PPIs may be significantly overprescribed in the elderly. Unfortunately, there were confounding factors that may have conflated the risk. Researchers also did not take into account family history of dementia, high blood pressure or excessive alcohol use, all of which have effects on dementia occurrence.

Bone fractures

In a meta-analysis of 18 observational studies, results showed that PPIs can increase the risk of hip fractures, spine fractures and any-site fractures (4). Interestingly, when it came to bone fractures, it did not make a difference whether patients were taking PPIs for more or less than a year.

They found increased fracture risks of 58, 26 and 33 percent for spine, hip and any site, respectively. It is not clear what may potentially increase the risk; however, it has been proposed that it may have to do with calcium absorption through the gut. PPIs reduce acid, which may be needed to absorb insoluble calcium salts. In another study, seven days of PPIs were shown to lower the absorption of calcium carbonate supplements when taken without food (5).

Need for magnesium

PPIs may have lower absorption effects on several electrolytes including magnesium, calcium and B12. In one observational study, PPIs combined with diuretics caused a 73 percent increased risk of hospitalization due to low magnesium (6). Diuretics are commonly prescribed for high blood pressure, heart failure and swelling.

Another study confirmed these results. In this second study, which was a meta-analysis of nine studies, PPIs increased the risk of low magnesium in patients by 43 percent, and when researchers looked only at higher quality studies, the risk increased to 63 percent (7). The authors note that a significant reduction in magnesium could lead to cardiovascular events.

The bottom line is that it’s best if you confer with your doctor before starting PPIs. You may not need PPIs, but rather a milder medication, such as H2 blockers (Zantac, Pepcid). Even better, start with lifestyle modifications including diet, not eating later at night, raising the head of the bed, losing weight and stopping smoking, if needed, and then consider medications (8).

If you do need medications, know that PPIs don’t give immediate relief and should only be taken for a short duration: 7 to 14 days, according to the FDA, without a doctor’s consult, and 4 to 8 weeks with one (9).

References:

(1) JAMA Intern Med. 2016;176(2). (2) JAMA Intern Med. 2016;176(2):172-174. (3) JAMA Neurol. online Feb 15, 2016. (4) Osteoporos Int. online Oct 13, 2015. (5) Am J Med. 118:778-781. (6) PLoS Med. 2014;11(9):e1001736. (7) Ren Fail. 2015;37(7):1237-1241. (8) Am J Gastroenterol 2015; 110:393–400. (9) fda.gov.

Dr. David Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. Visit www.medicalcompassmd.com. 

GERD is a common condition in which the esophagus becomes irritated or inflamed because of acid backing up from the stomach. Stock photo
You may avoid medications by making simple changes

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

Wherever you look there is an advertisement for the treatment of heartburn or indigestion, both of which are related to reflux disease.

Reflux typically results in symptoms of heartburn and regurgitation, with stomach contents going backward up the esophagus. For some reason, the lower esophageal sphincter, the valve between the stomach and esophagus, inappropriately relaxes. No one is quite sure why it happens with some people and not others. Of course, a portion of reflux is physiologic (normal functioning), especially after a meal (1). As such, it typically doesn’t require medical treatment.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), on the other hand, differs in that it’s long-lasting and more serious, affecting as much as 28 percent of the U.S. population (2). Can you understand why pharmaceutical firms give it so much attention?

GERD risk factors are diverse. They range from lifestyle — obesity, smoking cigarettes and diet — to medications, like calcium channel blockers and antihistamines. Other medical conditions, like hiatal hernia and pregnancy, also contribute (3). Diet issues include triggers like spicy foods, peppermint, fried foods and chocolate.

Smoking and Salt

One study showed that both smoking and salt consumption added to the risk of GERD significantly (4). Risk increased 70 percent in people who smoked. Surprisingly, people who used table salt regularly saw the same increased risk as seen with smokers.

Medications

The most common and effective medications for the treatment of GERD are H2 receptor blockers (e.g., Zantac and Tagamet), which partially block acid production, and proton pump inhibitors (e.g., Nexium and Prevacid), which almost completely block acid production (5). Both classes of medicines have two levels: over-the-counter and prescription strength. Here, I will focus on PPIs, for which more than 100 million prescriptions are written every year in the U.S. (6).

The most frequently prescribed PPIs include Prilosec (omeprazole), Protonix (pantoprazole), Nexium (esomeprazole), and Prevacid (lansoprazole). They have demonstrated efficacy for short-term use in the treatment of Helicobacter pylori-induced (bacteria overgrowth in the gut) peptic ulcers, GERD symptoms and complication prevention and gastric ulcer prophylaxis associated with NSAID use (aspirin, ibuprofen, etc.) as well as upper gastrointestinal bleeds.

However, they are often used long-term as maintenance therapy for GERD. PPIs used to be considered to have mild side effects. Unfortunately, evidence is showing that this may not be true. Most of the data in the package inserts is based on short-term studies lasting weeks, not years. The landmark study supporting long-term use approval was only one year, not 10 years. However, maintenance therapy usually continues over many years.

Side effects that have occurred after years of use are increased risk of bone fractures and calcium malabsorption; Clostridium difficile, a bacterial infection in the intestines; potential vitamin B12 deficiencies; and weight gain (7).

Bacterial infection risks

The FDA warned that patients who use PPIs may be at increased risk of a bacterial infection called C. difficile. This is a serious infection that occurs in the intestines and requires treatment with antibiotics. Unfortunately, it only responds to a few antibiotics and that number is dwindling. In the FDA’s meta-analysis, 23 of 28 studies showed increased risk of infection. Patients need to contact their physicians if they develop diarrhea when taking PPIs and the diarrhea doesn’t improve (8).

B12 deficiencies

Suppressing hydrochloric acid produced in the stomach may result in malabsorption issues if turned off for long periods of time. In a study where PPIs were associated with B12 malabsorption, it usually took at least three years’ duration to cause this effect. B12 was not absorbed properly from food, but the PPIs did not affect B12 levels from supplementation (9). Therefore, if you are taking a PPI chronically, it is worth getting your B12 and methylmalonic acid (a metabolite of B12) levels checked and discussing possible supplementation with your physician if you have a deficiency.

Lifestyle modifications

A number of modifications can improve GERD, such as raising the head of the bed about six inches, not eating prior to bedtime and obesity treatment, to name a few (10). In the same study already mentioned with smoking and salt, fiber and exercise both had the opposite effect, reducing the risk of GERD (5). This was a prospective (forward-looking) trial. The analysis by Journal Watch suggests that the fiber effect may be due to its ability to reduce nitric oxide production, a relaxant for the lower esophageal sphincter (11).

Obesity

In one study, obesity exacerbated GERD. What was interesting about the study is that researchers used manometry, which measures pressure, to show that obesity increases the pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter significantly (12). Intragastric (within the stomach) pressures were higher in both overweight and obese patients on inspiration and on expiration, compared to those with normal body mass index. This is yet another reason to lose weight.

Eating close to bedtime       

Though it may be simple, it is one of the most powerful modifications we can make to avoid GERD. A study that showed a 700 percent increased risk of GERD for those who ate within three hours of bedtime, compared to those who ate four hours or more prior to bedtime. Of note, this is 10 times the increased risk of the smoking effect (13). Therefore, it is best to not eat right before bed and to avoid “midnight snacks.”

Although there are a number of ways to treat GERD, the most comprehensive have to do with modifiable risk factors. Drugs have their place in the arsenal of choices, but lifestyle changes are the first — and most effective — approach in many instances. Consult your physician before stopping PPIs, since there may be rebound hyperacidity (high acid produced) if they are stopped abruptly.

References:

(1) Gastroenterol Clin North Am. 1996;25(1):75. (2) Gut. 2014 Jun; 63(6):871-80. (3) emedicinehealth.com. (4) Gut 2004 Dec.; 53:1730-1735. (5) Gastroenterology. 2008;135(4):1392. (6) Proton Pump Inhibitor, ClinCalc DrugStats Database, Version 20.0. Updated December 23, 2019. Accessed June 23, 2020. (7) World J Gastroenterol. 2009;15(38):4794–4798. (8) www.FDA.gov/safety/medwatch/safetyinformation. (9) Linus Pauling Institute; lpi.oregonstate.edu. (10) Arch Intern Med. 2006;166:965-971. (11) JWatch Gastro. Feb. 16, 2005. (12) Gastroenterology 2006 Mar.; 130:639-649. (13) Am J Gastroenterol. 2005 Dec.;100(12):2633-2636.

Dr. David Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com. 

Smoking and salt consumption add to the risk of GERD. Stock photo
Simple lifestyle changes are among the most effective treatments

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

It seems like everyone is diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). I exaggerate, of course, but the pharmaceutical companies do an excellent job of making it appear that way with advertising. Wherever you look there is an advertisement for the treatment of heartburn or indigestion, both of which are related to reflux disease.

GERD, also known as reflux, affects as much as 40 percent of the U.S. population (1). Reflux disease typically results in symptoms of heartburn and regurgitation brought on by stomach contents going backward up the esophagus. For some reason, the lower esophageal sphincter, the valve between the stomach and esophagus, inappropriately relaxes. No one is quite sure why it happens with some people and not others. Of course, a portion of reflux is physiologic (normal functioning), especially after a meal (2).

GERD risk factors are diverse. They range from lifestyle — obesity, smoking cigarettes and diet — to medications, like calcium channel blockers and antihistamines. Other medical conditions, like hiatal hernia and pregnancy, also contribute (3). Diet issues include triggers like spicy foods, peppermint, fried foods and chocolate.

Smoking and salt’s role

One study showed that both smoking and salt consumption added to the risk of GERD significantly (4). Risk increased 70 percent in people who smoked. Surprisingly, people who used table salt regularly saw the same increased risk as seen with smokers.

Medications

The most common and effective medications for the treatment of GERD are H2 receptor blockers (e.g., Zantac and Tagamet), which partially block acid production, and proton pump inhibitors (e.g., Nexium and Prevacid), which almost completely block acid production (5). Both classes of medicines have two levels: over-the-counter and prescription strength. Here, I will focus on PPIs, for which more than 113 million prescriptions are written every year in the U.S. (6).

PPIs include Nexium (esomeprazole), Prilosec (omeprazole), Protonix (pantoprazole) and Prevacid (lansoprazole). They have demonstrated efficacy for short-term use in the treatment of Helicobacter pylori-induced (bacteria overgrowth in the gut) peptic ulcers, GERD symptoms and complication prevention and gastric ulcer prophylaxis associated with NSAID use (aspirin, ibuprofen, etc.) as well as upper gastrointestinal bleeds.

However, they are often used long-term as maintenance therapy for GERD. PPIs used to be considered to have mild side effects. Unfortunately, evidence is showing that this may not be true. Most of the data in the package inserts is based on short-term studies lasting weeks, not years. The landmark study supporting long-term use approval was only one year, not 10 years. However, maintenance therapy usually continues over many years.

Side effects that have occurred after years of use are increased risk of bone fractures and calcium malabsorption; Clostridium difficile, a bacterial infection in the intestines; potential vitamin B12 deficiencies; and weight gain (7).

Bacterial infection

The FDA warned that patients who use PPIs may be at increased risk of a bacterial infection called C. difficile. This is a serious infection that occurs in the intestines and requires treatment with antibiotics. Unfortunately, it only responds to a few antibiotics and that number is dwindling. In the FDA’s meta-analysis, 23 of 28 studies showed increased risk of infection. Patients need to contact their physicians if they develop diarrhea when taking PPIs and the diarrhea doesn’t improve (8).

B12 deficiencies

Suppressing hydrochloric acid produced in the stomach may result in malabsorption issues if turned off for long periods of time. In a study where PPIs were associated with B12 malabsorption, it usually took at least three years’ duration to cause this effect. B12 was not absorbed properly from food, but the PPIs did not affect B12 levels from supplementation (9). Therefore, if you are taking a PPI chronically, it is worth getting your B12 and methylmalonic acid (a metabolite of B12) levels checked and discussing possible supplementation with your physician if you have a deficiency.

Lifestyle modifications

A number of modifications can improve GERD, such as raising the head of the bed about six inches, not eating prior to bedtime and obesity treatment, to name a few (10). In the same study already mentioned with smoking and salt, fiber and exercise both had the opposite effect, reducing the risk of GERD (5). This was a prospective (forward-looking) trial. The analysis by Journal Watch suggests that the fiber effect may be due to its ability to reduce nitric oxide production, a relaxant for the lower esophageal sphincter (11).

Obesity

In one study, obesity exacerbated GERD. What was interesting about the study is that researchers used manometry, which measures pressure, to show that obesity increases the pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter significantly (12). Intragastric (within the stomach) pressures were higher in both overweight and obese patients on inspiration and on expiration, compared to those with normal body mass index. This is yet another reason to lose weight.

Eating prior to bed — myth?       

Though it may be simple, it is one of the most powerful modifications we can make to avoid GERD. A study that showed a 700 percent increased risk of GERD for those who ate within three hours of bedtime, compared to those who ate four hours or more prior to bedtime. Of note, this is 10 times the increased risk of the smoking effect (13). Therefore, it is best to not eat right before bed and to avoid “midnight snacks.”

Although there are a number of ways to treat GERD, the most comprehensive have to do with modifiable risk factors. Drugs have their place in the arsenal of choices, but lifestyle changes are the first — and most effective — approach in many instances. Consult your physician before stopping PPIs since there may be rebound hyperacidity (high acid produced) if they are stopped abruptly.

References:

(1) Gut 2005;54(5):710. (2) Gastroenterol Clin North Am. 1996;25(1):75. (3) emedicinehealth.com. (4) Gut 2004 Dec.; 53:1730-1735. (5) Gastroenterology. 2008;135(4):1392. (6) JW Gen Med. Jun. 8, 2011. (7) World J Gastroenterol. 2009;15(38):4794–4798. (8) www.FDA.gov/safety/medwatch/safetyinformation. (9) Linus Pauling Institute; lpi.oregonstate.edu. (10) Arch Intern Med. 2006;166:965-971. (11) JWatch Gastro. Feb. 16, 2005. (12) Gastroenterology 2006 Mar.; 130:639-649. (13) Am J Gastroenterol. 2005 Dec.;100(12):2633-2636.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com or consult your personal physician.