Filled picture: Indigestion pills may increase the risk of early death,

INDIGESTION pills taken by millions may increase the risk of early death, a study suggests.

Scientists found patients using proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) to treat heartburn were 25 percent more likely to die in the next six years than those who took an alternative called H2 blockers.

Experts said use of the drugs should be restricted in light of the evidence, based on records of 6million patients.

More than 5million bottles and packets are prescribed in England each year to treat gastroesophageal reflux, a severe form of heartburn. Many more buy PPIs – including omeprazole and lansoprazole – over the counter.

The drugs are not recommended for long-term use but doctors fear that, as they are readily available, many take them without supervision for years.

The US research used army veterans’ records to examine the risks of taking the drugs.

The Veterans Affairs St Louis Healthcare System and Washington University in Missouri found those who had used PPIs were an average of 25 per cent more likely to die than patients who took H2 blockers during the six-year study period. They were 23 per cent more likely to die than patients who took neither.

For those who took PPIs consistently for more than six months the risk of death rose to 31 per cent, and after a year it jumped to 51 per cent. The scientists, whose work is published in the BMJ Open journal, said they did not know why this might be – and could not prove the drugs were causing the increased risk. But they said research has indicated a link between PPIs and chronic kidney disease, dementia and osteoporosis.

Other research linked the drugs to the ageing of cells and tissue – a problem known as oxidative stress.

The scientists said patients should continue to use the drugs if prescribed, but steer clear if they were not needed. The study looked only at PPIs, and so the possible risk does not extend to other indigestion medicines such as antacid treatments which neutralise excess stomach acid.

John Smith, of the Proprietary Association of Great Britain, the trade association for manufacturers of over-the-counter medicines, said: ‘These findings should be treated with considerable caution. This is an observational study – its authors acknowledge that no firm conclusions should be made regarding cause and effect. The study only looked at prescription use of PPIs, which are typically used at higher doses and for longer durations.’

© Daily Mail