Information about Using Proton Pump Inhibitors to Treat Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

Q: How long can I take a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) to treat GERD?

A: GERD is a chronic condition, and for many people, this means daily treatment—indefinitely—with a PPI, the most effective type of acid blocker. Acid blockers are very safe and generally associated with only minor side effects. However, they do reduce stomach acid, which is one of your body's defenses against infection. Pneumonia and Clostridium difficile infection become somewhat more likely in the absence of stomach acid, but the risk is still very small.

Taking a PPI can decrease your body's ability to absorb vitamin B12, so you may need monthly B12 injections. PPIs can also decrease your ability to absorb calcium, which can contribute to osteoporosis, so you might need to supplement with calcium, vitamin D, and a bone-preserving bisphosphonate drug like alendronate (Fosamax).

Finally, researchers are finding that omeprazole (Prilosec) may decrease the effectiveness of the blood-thinner clopidogrel (Plavix). Talk with your doctor if you are taking both of these medications.

For most people with GERD, however, the benefits of medication far outweigh the risks. PPIs can control symptoms, and they're essential for people with serious disorders that result from uncontrolled GERD like Barrett's esophagus or severe esophagitis (inflammation of the esophagus). But if you have mild to moderate symptoms, talk with your doctor about whether on-demand GERD therapy (as opposed to daily medication) may work for you.

Publication Review By: H. Franklin Herlong, M.D.

Published: 28 Mar 2011

Last Modified: 23 Jul 2015