Understanding Your Medication - How Do Proton Pump Inhibitors Work?

When you have too much stomach acid, or when deposits build up in the wrong parts of your body, your own digestive system turns on you. Heartburn, acid reflux, ulcers and gastrointestinal diseases have painful symptoms that take the joy out of meals, and sometimes the relief that over-the-counter antacids provide is too short-lived and weak for your chronic condition.

Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) deliver more lasting and powerful results. In order to stem the production of stomach acid, PPIs go several steps back in its creation process. Your stomach lining is full of parietal cells, which contain important enzymes that generate hydrogen ions. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus, these are hydrogen-potassium adenosine triphosphatase enzymes, and they make up a system within your body called the “proton pump”.

When you take a PPI on an empty stomach, it neutralizes these enzymes to prevent the creation of new hydrogen ions. These ions populate your stomach’s lining with new stomach acid, and when they work too hard, that acid starts eating away at the protective mucus lining your stomach. This is how ulcers form, and why acid reflux can be so painful. PPIs don’t start neutralizing the enzymes within your body’s parietal cells until those cells are active, so they won’t start circulating through your blood until you’ve finished a meal. Once those cells are activated by the digestive process, PPIs take up arms and stem the proton pump’s ion production.

MedicineNet included Prilosec, Achiphex, Prevacid, Protonix, Nexium, and Zegarid among the approved, brand-name proton pump inhibitors available to American patients. They noted that PPIs treat more than just heartburn and acid reflux; they also offer relief from some rare conditions, including Zollinger-Ellison syndrome and the harmful, ulcer-causing bacteria Helicobacter pylori.

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Over-the-counter H2 blockers, including most of the common heartburn medicines, reduce stomach acid in an effort to combat heartburn and ulcer symptoms. However, PPIs are also preventative on a long-term basis. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) develops after too much stomach acid has escaped into the esophagus over time. PPIs prevent this process too, eliminating the excess acid that your faulty sphincter is failing to trap within the stomach.

At Portland’s Oregon Health & Science University in 2009, researchers thoroughly explored the efficiency of the proton pump inhibitor by conducting sixteen different trials. The PPIs they used included both prescription and over-the-counter varieties, both name-brand and generic, as well as varying dosages in an effort to account for subtle differences between chemical makeups. They found that every PPI was equally efficient at both healing and reversing erosive esophagitis, with a success rate that ranged within eight weeks between 75% and a near-perfect 99%.

According to WebMD, proton pump inhibitors can do everything from soothe your inflamed esophagus to save you from the risks of developing GERD, ulcers, esophagitis and other complications of excessive stomach acid and malignant bacteria. While they don’t take effect instantaneously, they do provide long-term relief by changing the chemical reactions happening within your digestive system. If your stomach acid is affecting your social life and your meals, PPIs offer a thorough solution that keeps your body in balance.








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