Long-term use of popular anti-heartburn drugs that block stomach acid production increases the risk of hip fractures in adults over 50, perhaps because the drugs inhibit calcium absorption, researchers said on Tuesday.
The drug class, called proton pump inhibitors because they shut down stomach acid production, are used by millions who suffer from acid-related stomach problems including ulcers and gastro-esophageal reflux.
The study by the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, covered nearly 150,000 Britons older than 50 who suffered a total of 13,556 hip fracture cases.
It found that those undergoing anti-heartburn drug therapy had a 44 percent greater risk of hip fracture than those who were not taking the drugs. Furthermore, the study showed the longer the drugs were used and the higher the dosage, the greater the risk of fracturing a hip.
In many cases, doctors prescribe the drugs for two months or less.
The study's authors termed the increased bone risk significant, especially among those taking higher dosages, and urged further research to identify the underlying mechanism at work.
Some previous research has shown the drugs may reduce the body's ability to absorb calcium, which is needed to maintain healthy bones, and may decrease bone density in some patients, the study said.
"At this point, physicians should be aware of this potential association when considering (proton pump inhibitor) therapy and should use the lowest effective dose for patients with appropriate indications," said study author Yu-Xiao Yang.
The report on the study, published in this week's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, also said that elderly patients requiring long-term and high-dose drug therapy should consider increasing calcium intake.
Hip fractures are a curse for the elderly and are difficult to heal, especially for those with declining bone density. One in five who suffer a hip fracture die within a year, the study said.
Some of the brand-name versions of the heartburn- and ulcer-fighting drugs include AstraZeneca's Prilosec and Nexium, TAP Pharmaceutical's Prevacid, Eisai Inc.'s Aciphex, and Wyeth's Protonix.