Heartburn pills taken by thousands of women 'raise risk of hip fractures by up to 50 per cent'

Women who take the pills are 35% more susceptible

Hundreds of thousands of women who take commonly prescribed heartburn pills could be up to 50 per cent more prone to hip fractures, scientists warn.

Taking the drugs several times every week has been shown to increase the risk by more than a third.

The figure is 50 per cent for smokers or those who have smoked in the past.

Damaging: Women who take heartburn pills could risk hip fractures in the long run

Damaging: Women who take heartburn pills could risk hip fractures in the long run

Researchers studied the long-term effects of proton pump inhibitor drugs, or PPIs, which are widely prescribed across the NHS for heartburn, indigestion and stomach ulcers.

Some pills are also available over the counter, including omeprazole, which is sold under the brand name Zanprol.

The team from Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston looked at data spanning nearly 20 years involving 80,000 women who had been through the menopause.

Every two years they were asked how often they had taken these drugs and whether they had suffered any hip fractures.

The findings, published today in the British Medical Journal, show that women who had taken them at least three or four times a week over a two-year period were 35 per cent more at risk of suffering hip fractures.

Researchers believe that the drugs may hamper the body’s ability to break down and replace old bone tissue.

The research was conducted at Harvard Medical School

The research was conducted at Harvard Medical School

They also suspect that PPIs may reduce the take-up of calcium, which is an essential component of healthy bones.

But lead researcher Dr Hamid Khalili pointed out that even though the drugs increased the risk of fractures it was still very low.

For every 500 patients on the drugs only one would be likely to fracture their hip in a year.

But he said that middle-aged women – particularly those who smoke – who had been taking PPIs for a long time should consider whether it was really necessary. The study concluded: ‘Our data suggest the importance of carefully evaluating the need for long-term, continuous use of PPIs, particularly among individuals with a history of smoking.’

Tobie de Villiers, president of the International Menopause Society, said: ‘Although the relative risk of hip fracture is significantly raised in users of PPIs when compared to non-users, the absolute risk increase is small. This is still important in view of the widespread use of PPIs and the significant burden of hip fractures on affected individuals and the healthcare system.’


Obesity is driving a 50 per cent rise in people suffering acid reflux over the last decade, according to new research.

Experts are concerned because reflux, one of the main causes of heartburn, can trigger oesophageal cancer, which is also on the increase.

The condition where acid from the stomach leaks up into the gullet, or oesophagus, has been linked to obesity, diets high in fatty foods, alcohol and smoking.

The research involving almost 30,000 people in Norway also found women are more at risk than men of developing the condition, known medically as gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (Gord).

Middle-aged people suffered the most severe symptoms, said the study published in the medical journal Gut.

Around nine million prescriptions for PPIs are written out every year at an annual cost to the NHS of more than 400million.

Many patients with severe heartburn or acid reflux end up taking them for months.

However, hip fractures can be devastating, particularly for the elderly who can die as a result.

Patients may have to spend weeks immobile in hospital and this can lead to infections such as pneumonia.

The Harvard study only involved women, but other research suggests that men taking these drugs are also at risk.

One by Canadian scientists on both men and women in 2008 found that those who had taken the drugs for five years were 44 per cent more likely to have a hip fracture.

Dan Greer, spokesman on gastroenterology medicines at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said: ‘This is a useful study, that has taken account of the other factors that can affect hip fractures such as smoking, calcium intake, and obesity that has been missing from other studies looking at the link between PPIs and hip fracture.

‘It suggests there may be a small increase in hip fracture risk associated with these medicines in a high-risk group. Women should be reassured though that the absolute risk is small.’