NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Certain acid blockers in a popular heartburn drug might actually increase the risk of premature death.

As CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez reports, there are three main types of heartburn drugs. Antacids, like Tums and Rolaids, are fine. So are older acid blockers called H-2 blockers, like Pepcid and Zantac.

But the evidence keeps piling up that drugs called PPIs, like Nexium, Prevacid and Prilosec, might actually be risky.

They are among the best-selling drugs in the country, with more than $10 billion spent annually on a class of acid blocking medications called Proton Pump Inhibitors, or PPIs. It almost seems that half the country must suffer from acid reflux.

“I couldn’t breathe. My ribs were hurting the cough was so hard and dry,” patient Nilda Rodriguez said.

“I had shortness of breath. I was completely exhausted. I had terrible post-nasal drip,” said fellow patient Francesca Spiotta Loy.

Although their symptoms weren’t like classic heartburn, both women had stomach acid reflux.

“Reflux actually comes in two forms: the heartburn people, the indigestion people, and those that have respiratory reflux, in which there’s asthma, allergies, chronic throat clearing, post-nasal drip,” Dr. Jamie Koufan, of the Voice Institute of New York, explained.

Despite their symptoms, neither Rodriguez nor Spiotta Loy wanted to take the common and powerful acid-blocking PPIs. Which was probably good thing, considering a new study of 350,000 patients in the Veterans Affairs system found that those taking PPIs had a 25 percent greater risk of premature death compared to those taking H-2 blockers.

That’s just the latest of many studies linking PPIs to adverse side effects, including hip fractures, kidney disease, infections, dementia and esophageal cancer.

Rodriguez and Spiotta Loy avoided PPIs by following Dr. Koufman’s program for alternative methods of reflux control, primarily changing their diets and lifestyles.

“We eat too late, we eat too much fatty food, we tend to over eat. You know, miss breakfast and lunch and eat huge dinner,” she explained.

Some patients really do need acid-blocking drugs. For those people, experts are starting to lean more toward the H-2 blockers, which are not as strong and need to be taken more often, but have a 40-year safe history.

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