I recently had an interesting conversation with a lady via email.
She contacted me about a few digestive issues she was having, with her main points of concern being her long-term IBS symptoms and the fact that she had urgency for the toilet. This was having an impact on her wellbeing, as she was nervous about going out of the house for fear of not being able to find and/or use a toilet.
As I always do in these situations, I asked her some questions, including what medication she was taking. It transpired that she had been taking Omeprazole, the strong proton pump inhibitor (PPI) for many years. When anyone tells me they’ve been taking Omeprazole or its sister drug Lansoprazole long-term and daily, my ears always prick up, due to the potential side effects, including blocking the absorption of certain nutrients like calcium, magnesium and iron, increasing the risk of bowel infections, and increasing the risk of stomach cancer.
But, I hear you ask, how can such drugs increase the risk of bowel infections?
Well, just think about the purpose of the PPI – it virtually switches off the production of stomach acid. And what is one of the purposes of stomach acid? Amongst other things, it kills any pathogen trying to get into the gut, but if you have no stomach acid, then you’ve no means of killing ‘bad’ bacteria – and not just ‘bad’ bacteria, but parasites and viruses entering the body via the oral route too.
If you want some science around the increased risk of getting the virus COVID-19 when taking proton pump inhibitors, read this study in The American Journal of Gastroenterology highlighting the fact that a person on PPIs is 2-4 times more likely to get COVID-19.
Back to the lady who has been taking Omeprazole for many years. When I did a bit more digging, it transpired that she was prescribed the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) Naproxen for a pain disorder that she had several years prior to our conversation. NSAIDs increase the risk of stomach ulcers, so GPs will almost always prescribe a PPI alongside an NSAID, such as Naproxen, to protect the stomach.
This particular lady had not taken Naproxen since, yet was still on the Omeprazole. When I asked her why, she wasn’t sure. When I asked her how often she had a drug review at her surgery, she said never and that the Omeprazole was just on repeat prescription.
Please, if you’re taking medications and you’re no longer sure why you’re taking them, ensure you have a drugs review at your surgery or you could end up like this lady taking a drug that doesn’t just cause gut issues, but may cause something more serious!
Finally, always ask your GP to explain the risk over benefit when he/she is prescribing a drug. It’s important to know the side effects of all drugs, and how certain drugs can interact with other drugs. The number of prescriptions issued by family doctors has soared threefold in just three years, with millions of people committed to taking a cocktail of half a dozen drugs, or more! Don’t be coerced into taking drugs that you may not need and be debilitated by their side effects. Question, question, question!