Harvard Men's Health Watch

Serious side effects are uncommon after heartburn treatment

Serious health problems are uncommon after drugs or surgery to treat chronic heartburn, according to a recent study in Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics. Many men take acid-reducing drugs called proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs), such as omeprazole (Prilosec, others) and lansoprazole (Prevacid), for chronic heartburn. One alternative is a surgical procedure to tighten the entrance to the stomach and prevent acidic stomach contents from backing up into the esophagus.

The new study drew on findings from two different clinical trials that tracked the health of people treated with either drugs or surgery. One trial involved about 300 people who were followed for up to 12 years; the other involved about 500 people who were followed for five years.

Some past studies have found hints of problems from long-term use of heartburn drugs, such as difficulty absorbing calcium, B vitamins, or iron, or higher rates of certain bacterial infections in the gut. In the two trials covered by this report, neither PPIs nor surgery appeared to increase these or other types of health problems. This is reassuring to the millions of men taking daily acid-reducing medication for heartburn, although it does not rule out the possibility of side effects in some individuals.