A new study published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacologyhas linked the use of proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), acid blockers that are used to treat heartburn, to an increased risk of serious stomach infections.

Researchers studied 565,000 adults in Scotland that were split into two groups: one group that used PPIs and other acid blockers known as H2 receptor agonists and a control group that did not use either class of drugs. The study found that those who used the acid blockers had an increased rate of C. difficile and Campylobacter positive gastroenteritis, which causes serious bacterial infections of the stomach.

Patients on PPIs and H2 receptor agonists experienced a 1.7x increased risk of C. difficile and a 3.7x increased risk of Campylobacter. Those who were on the drugs while in the hospital showed an even higher risk of bacterial infection.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has previously warned about the link between PPIs and C. difficile. The drugs include over-the-counter medications Nexium, Prilosec and Prevacid, which many people believe are harmless since they are sold without prescriptions.

Long-term use of PPIs has been linked to heart and kidney problems as well. A 2016 study in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrologydiscovered that patients who used PPIs long-term were 95% more likely to experience kidney failure. A 2015 study by Stanford University School of Medicine linked an increase in the incidence of heart attacks -- between 16% and 21% -- to long-term PPI use.

Experts say that people who experience mild or infrequent heartburn or acid reflux should consult with their doctors before using a PPI or H2 receptor agonist, since these conditions may be able to be successfully treated with changes to diet and lifestyle.

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