Acid reflux, and the range of health issues that cause it, affect a significant number of Americans – at least one in five adults in the country deal with it daily.
Often signaled by a burning, painful sensation in the throat, it’s caused by an overabundance of acid in the stomach.
Usually used to break down food, this excess stomach acid travels up the esophagus and burns the mucus-lined walls, causing internal injuries. In order to fight this painful issue, doctors rely on medications called PPIs, or proton pump inhibitors, which includes pantoprazole.
Proton pumps are cells that regulate the production and overall levels of digestive acids in the stomach – in order to prevent overproduction, PPIs signal the body to tone down the output of these acid-producing cells.
This process still keeps enough digestive acid in the stomach to safely process food, but prevents acid from building up to the point of “back flowing” into the esophagus.
The relief for the pantoprazole patient takes several forms – once the medicine has a chance to work, they no longer feel the burning, painful sensation of acid in their throat, uncomfortable burping, foul tastes and odors, and in the case of accompanying ulcers, potentially a reduction or elimination of stomach / abdominal pain.
Is Pantoprazole Safe To Take?
Pantoprazole has the advantage of many years of use and a strong medical history of effectiveness: it has been approved for use for the last 20 years in the US by the FDA.
It has also been studied and experimented with worldwide for more than 30 years, and is approved for use in a large variety of patient types. In addition to individual prescriptions, it is commonly used both orally and intravenously in hospitals.
Pantoprazole is administered to admitted patients that need to reduce or eliminate the symptoms of acid reflux or various types of stomach ulcers.
The National Institutes of Health consider pantoprazole to be safe for most patients, absent an individual’s known allergies or drug interactions.
They note that pantoprazole has minimal side effects, excellent effectiveness in both long and short-term courses, and minimal drug interactions.
Pantoprazole is typically taken before a meal and with water: the medication takes longer to process if it is taken after food has been ingested, which is less than optimal for acid buildup.
As with any prescribed medication, it is crucial to follow the advice and directions of the prescribing doctor, as well as keeping them informed about any changes in lifestyle, such as significant dietary changes or the addition of other drugs to your health regimen.
This ensures they can proactively screen for potential interactions, ensure proper symptom management, and change medical approaches when it is deemed necessary.
What Medical Conditions Is Pantoprazole Used For?
The Food and Drug Administration has approved Pfizer’s brand name pantoprazole medication, Protonix, for three uses:
- The short-term (>8 weeks) treatment of erosive esophagitis associated with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This is the primary function of the medication, which is taken to reduce the painful and persistent acid reflux symptoms associated with GERD.
- Maintaining healing after and during bouts of erosive esophagitis. Because internal esophagus wounds and acid burns can’t heal properly while acid is still threatening mucal walls, pantoprazole is used to give the body a chance to heal these by reducing and / or eliminating acid in the esophagus. In this use, it also helps protect against heartburn around the clock for adult patients. It’s important to note, however, that pantoprazole is a PPI medication intended as a course, not a “spot” medication to be taken to alleviate symptoms the way, for example, an over-the-counter antacid like Tums would.
- Ongoing symptom control for a rare condition called Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome. This syndrome is quite literally a one-in-a-million diagnosis, and is an inherited deficiency in acid regulation that primarily affects men between the ages of 30 and 50. Pantoprazole is used to control the syndrome’s “hypersecretory conditions,” which means that a patient’s proton pumps continually produce too much acid. Unlike other uses of the medication, this condition is FDA approved to receive ongoing courses lasting longer than 8 weeks.
What Are The Side Effects Of Pantoprazole?
Although pantoprazole sodium is widely considered safe and low-risk for most patients, there are still pantoprazole side effects that should be taken into consideration.
Appearance of these side effects, or any unexplained medical conditions that emerge after initially taking it, should always be reported to a doctor. While these effects may only seem mild and easily ignored, they give your medical professional important information about how your body tolerates this medical approach.
Discovering an allergy to pantoprazole, for example, would trigger a note in your medical chart to avoid similar PPI-family medications in the future whenever possible.
These pantoprazole side effects are considered “uncommon,” and experiencing them consistently when taking pantoprazole is a red flag that it might not be the right medication for your acid reflux symptom management. The side effects of pantoprazole may affect the following regions of the body:
- Eyes: One of the side effects of pantoprazole may affect your vision, making it difficult to see clearly. Whether you struggle to see items nearby or in the distance, if you had no vision problems prior to starting your medication and suddenly do, blurred vision can be a sign your body isn’t tolerating pantoprazole well.
- Mouth: A mouth that feels suddenly dry and parched, even if you drink water on a regular basis. Again, for this side effect to be worrisome, it should be a new issue that has appeared since starting your prescribed course of medication.
Another sign is excessive thirst, even when you’ve consumed a healthy amount of water or other beverages on a regular basis. Alternately, if you find yourself frequently needing to urinate without a corresponding uptake in liquids, this can also signal an issue. Other symptoms include breath that has a fruit-like odor that isn’t explained by diet, mints, gum, and so on.
- Skin: Skin that feels hot, feverish, and unusually dry to the touch. This is a sign that your body and circulation may be reacting poorly to the medication, though your doctor will likely want to rule out a more common illness or fever before becoming concerned.
Other skin-related side effects include sweating, or skin that feels inexplicably clammy to the touch. This is another indication that your body may have issues with temperature regulation or adverse reactions to your new medication.
- Lungs: Struggling or experiencing difficulty breathing. If there are no other causes (e.g. strenuous exercise) that could explain a shortness of breath, experiencing this side effect could be a clue that pantoprazole is not well-tolerated, and an alternate medication may be needed.
- Digestive system: Because it works in and around the stomach specifically, pantoprazole side effects that affect the stomach are especially important to monitor. If you experience sudden stomach pain after initially taking your medication and eating, stretching, or resting doesn’t seem to help, contact your doctor for guidance. Severe diarrhea can also occur in some individuals treated with pantoprazole, particularly hospitalized people.
Another side effect of pantoprazole includes nausea and/or vomiting. When the body can’t tolerate a substance, and reacts prior to that substance being fully broken down and digested, vomiting is usually the result. If you feel queasy, experience “dry heaves”, or throw up stomach acid, this could be a sign that your medication dosage may need to be adjusted or stopped altogether.
Whether shedding pounds without cause or because your appetite has decreased significantly, losing unexpected weight after starting pantoprazole may be yet another side-effect, particularly if the loss is rapid.
For additional information and important warnings about long-term use, speak with your physician about the risks and side effects of pantoprazole, along with proper dosing and other questions you may have.
What Are The Benefits Of Taking Pantoprazole?
While the list of potential side effects may seem long, the aforementioned are uncommon – in fact, most medical experts agree that the benefits of taking pantoprazole far outweigh any general risks. Below, some of the benefits of taking pantoprazole:
- Works in a wide variety of cases, including youth, adult, and elderly patients.
- Is considered by the NIH to be “extremely effective” at treating the symptoms of GERD, acid reflux, ulcers, and more.
- Very few known drug interactions, and a short list of potential side effects.
- Helps control stomach acid-related pain and discomfort quickly, and can continue to do so for weeks, or even months in certain cases.
- Decades-long history of experimentation, examination, and use with no broad / major concerns noted.
Who Should Not Take Pantoprazole?
Although it’s an effective way to treat acid reflux, some patients should avoid taking pantoprazole and work with their doctor to find an alternate medication or means of treatment. These include:
- Patients with known or discovered allergies to medications in the PPI family.
- Patients with bone density issues, such as osteoporosis, as higher doses of pantoprazole can exacerbate this condition.
- Patients currently taking medications with known interactions with pantoprazole, such as the HIV and AIDS treatments Nelfinavir/Viracept and Atazanavir/Reyataz.
- Patients on certain anti-fungal, antibiotic, anti-clotting, and diuretic medications.
Once you and your doctor have discussed the risks and benefits of pantoprazole for managing your acid reflux-producing symptoms, simply have your prescription filled at your nearest pharmacy; this medication is not available “OTC,” or over-the-counter.
References, Studies and Sources:
1) “Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome.” NIH (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases / niddk.nih.gov), (no publish date), https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/zollinger-ellison-syndrome. Accessed May 31, 2020.
2) Calabrese, Carlo; Fabbri, Anna; Di Febo, Giulio. “Long-term management of GERD in the elderly with pantoprazole.” NCBI (US National Library of Medicine | National Institutes of Health / ncbi.nlm.nih.gov), March 2007, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2684091/. Accessed May 31, 2020.
3) “Pantoprazole.” NHS.uk, (no publish date), https://www.nhs.uk/medicines/pantoprazole. Accessed May 31, 2020.
4) “Pantoprazole.” Drugs.com, September 13, 2018, https://www.drugs.com/pantoprazole.html. Accessed May 31, 2020.
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