Medication to prevent ulcers

Various medications can lower the risk of getting a peptic . These include, in particular, drugs called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and H2 blockers. Both of these types of drugs reduce the production of stomach acid. In Germany, the most commonly used PPIs are omeprazole and pantoprazole. The H2 blocker that is normally used is ranitidine.

The hormone-like drug misoprostol is sometimes used too, although less often. One of the things misoprostol does is increase the production of gastric (stomach) mucus, which helps protect the stomach wall. In Germany, misoprostol is available as a combination drug together with the painkiller diclofenac.

Risk factors for peptic ulcers

Not everyone who regularly takes NSAIDs will also need to take medication to protect their stomach. This will mainly depend on your personal risk of developing a peptic . Peptic ulcers are more likely to develop in people who

  • are over the age of 65,
  • have had a peptic in the past,
  • take several different painkillers at once – for instance, including acetylsalicylic acid for the prevention of complications following a or stroke,
  • take steroids too,
  • take a selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant as well as a painkiller.

Younger people who don't have any risk factors aren't likely to get peptic ulcers. So they hardly benefit from taking medication to prevent peptic ulcers.

Research on the prevention of peptic ulcers

A group of researchers from the – an international network of researchers – wanted to find out which medications can prevent the development of peptic ulcers. To do so, they looked for studies where NSAIDs were combined with PPIs, H2 blockers or misoprostol. The researchers found 41 suitable studies with a total of more than 21,000 participants.

The people in the studies were mainly men and women who had osteoarthritis or a rheumatic disease. All of them took one or several NSAIDs for at least three weeks and had a fairly high risk of getting a peptic . A number of the studies compared proton pump inhibitors, H2 blockers or misoprostol with a placebo (dummy drug) or with each other. The participants were observed for up to one year. Regardless of whether they had symptoms, in almost all of the studies the participants had a gastroscopy to see whether they had an in their stomach or duodenum.

Proton pump inhibitors lower the risk of peptic ulcers

The proton pump inhibitors used in the studies were lansoprazole (15 mg or 30 mg per day), omeprazole (20 mg per day) and pantoprazole (40 mg per day). The studies lasted up to six months. They showed that, compared to a placebo, all of these proton pump inhibitors clearly lowered the risk of getting peptic ulcers:

  • Without a proton pump inhibitor, 36 out of 100 people developed an .
  • With a proton pump inhibitor, 14 out of 100 people developed a peptic .

In other words: Proton pump inhibitors prevented the development of NSAID-related peptic ulcers in 22 out of 100 people.

Proton pump inhibitors may cause headaches, diarrhea, constipation and stomach pain. Only a few people in the studies stopped their treatment early due to side effects.

But it's not clear whether the long-term use of proton pump inhibitors is safe. It has been observed that hip fractures, spinal fractures and wrist fractures are more common in people over the age of 50 who have taken PPIs in a high dose or for longer than a year.

It is also thought that the long-term use of PPIs might increase the risk of intestinal infections and pulmonary (lung) infections or nephritis ( of the kidney).

H2 blockers: Effectiveness depends on dose

The studies on H2 blockers mainly looked at the drugs famotidine and ranitidine. These studies lasted up to one year. Both drugs were shown to prevent peptic ulcers, but their effectiveness greatly depended on the dose taken. When taken at lower doses, the medications only reduced the risk of duodenal ulcers. When taken at higher doses, they effectively prevented both stomach ulcers and duodenal ulcers:

  • Without an H2 blocker, 36 out of 100 people developed an .
  • With an H2 blocker, 15 out of 100 people developed an .

In other words, higher doses of H2 blockers prevented peptic ulcers in 21 out of 100 people.

The effective doses in the trials were 40 mg twice daily for famotidine and 300 mg twice daily for ranitidine. These medications were also well tolerated at higher doses. Side effects such as headaches, diarrhea or constipation may occur, though.

Misoprostol is effective, but has more side effects

There were also a lot of studies on misoprostol. The studies showed that this drug can prevent the development of peptic ulcers too. But misoprostol has a disadvantage: It often causes side effects, particularly diarrhea and stomach cramps. Because of this, compared to the people in the studies on proton pump inhibitors, more people in the studies on misoprostol stopped their treatment. There is very little research on the combination drug (containing diclofenac and misoprostol) that is available in Germany. So it's not clear whether it has any advantages or disadvantages compared to other treatments.

Making a decision and considering alternative options

All three types of “stomach-protecting” medication can lower the risk of getting peptic ulcers. Proton pump inhibitors and H2 blockers appear to be very well tolerated. But it is important to make sure the dose of H2 blockers is high enough. H2 blockers can become less effective over time because your body gets used to them. This doesn't seem to be a problem when taking proton pump inhibitors.

The risk of stomach and bowel (gastrointestinal) problems can be reduced by taking the lowest possible dose of painkillers, and only taking them for as long as necessary. Acetaminophen (paracetamol) may sometimes be an alternative to NSAIDs. It doesn't increase the risk of peptic ulcers and is often just as effective. But it has side effects too: For instance, it may cause liver damage if the dose is too high or if you take it regularly.

It's best to talk to a doctor about how high your own personal risk of getting a peptic is, as well as what medications you could take to protect your stomach.

Robert Koch-Institut (RKI), Statistisches Bundesamt (Destatis). Gastritis, Magen- und Zwölffingerdarmgeschwüre. Berlin: RKI; 2013. (Gesundheitsberichterstattung des Bundes; Heft 55).

Rostom A, Dube C, Wells GA, Tugwell P, Welch V, Jolicoeur E et al. Prevention of NSAID-induced gastroduodenal ulcers. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2002; (4): CD002296.

IQWiG health information is written with the aim of helping people understand the advantages and disadvantages of the main treatment options and health care services.

Because IQWiG is a German institute, some of the information provided here is specific to the German health care system. The suitability of any of the described options in an individual case can be determined by talking to a doctor. informedhealth.org can provide support for talks with doctors and other medical professionals, but cannot replace them. We do not offer individual consultations.

Our information is based on the results of good-quality studies. It is written by a team of health care professionals, scientists and editors, and reviewed by external experts. You can find a detailed description of how our health information is produced and updated in our methods.

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Updated on June 28, 2018
Next planned update: 2021

Authors/Publishers:

Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany)

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