(CBS NEWS) -- Some heartburn drugs used by millions of Americans are associated with a higher risk of death, a new study suggests, but people on the drugs should talk with their doctor first before stopping the medicines, experts say.
The drugs, called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), reduce stomach acid and are available over-the-counter and by prescription. Other recent studies have linked PPIs to a range of potential health risks including kidney disease, stomach infections, heart disease, pneumonia, bone fractures, and dementia. Popular brand-name PPI medications include Prilosec, Nexium, Prevacid and others sold over-the-counter or by prescription.
With so many studies associating PPIs with other health risks, researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis wanted to find out if people who took the drugs were at greater risk of dying.
"We started thinking, if this is really true that PPIs are associated with all of these adverse events, does that translate to a higher risk of death, an increased risk of mortality," study author Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly told CBS News.
The scientists used a large database, combing through medical records from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (which did not reveal the patients' identities) to compare death rates among users of PPIs with people who took H2 blockers, another class of drugs that help reduce stomach acid that can cause conditions such as gastro-esophageal reflux.