Deprescribing PPIs: Do I still need the acid-reducing pill?

College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta Messenger, Optimized Prescribing with Seniors


Contributed by:

Dr Vivian Ewa, MBBS, CCFP (CoE), PG DipMedEd, FCFP, FRCP Edin.


Mrs. Jones, an 86-year-old patient of yours, recently learned one of her medications is an acid-reducing pill. Currently, she takes several medications and wants the acid pill reviewed. She has a history of COPD, hypertension, type 2 diabetes mellitus and osteoarthritis of the knees. Her medication list includes: Tylenol, Ramipril, Vitamin D, oral Vitamin B12, Pantoloc, hydrochlorothiazide, Ventolin and a Spiriva inhaler.


In Canada, about one in four seniors aged 65 years and above have three or more chronic medical disorders and are on six or more medications (1). Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are commonly prescribed and in a recent report of prescription drug use in Canada, Pantoloc was the fifth most commonly prescribed drug, with more than 11 million prescriptions in 2012 (2). PPIs are indicated for short-term treatment of mild GERD or esophagitis. Treatment is usually four to eight weeks duration (3, 4). In cases of moderate esophagitis with endoscopic evidence of Barrett’s esophagus and severe esophagitis grade C or D, long-term to lifelong treatment is indicated (5). Short-term PPI use for treatment of peptic ulcer disease is recommended for two to 12 weeks, unless maintenance therapy is clearly indicated, such as ongoing NSAID use (6). In cases of post-GI bleed associated with H. Pylori infections, anti-secretory therapy can be discontinued following eradication of the infectious bacteria except in cases where NSAID use is ongoing (6).


Studies have shown that even when started for heartburn, mild GERD symptoms or esophagitis, PPIs are not reviewed and patients stay on them for years with no valid indication (7). Long-term use of PPIs is not without risks, including vitamin B12 deficiency (8, 9), osteoporosis (9, 10), pneumonia (11) and C. difficile associated diarrhea (12, 13).


Deprescribing PPIs can be a challenge when information is lacking on the original indication for use. A thorough assessment that includes prior history of GERD symptoms, GI bleed and endoscopy can help tease out the indication for use. The website (14) has a helpful algorithm to guide decision making when deprescribing PPIs (15). Where no indication exists, options include stopping PPIs and starting an H2RA versus gradually weaning off the PPI over a couple of weeks with the option for on demand use if symptoms recur (15). If the decision is made to deprescribe, the key to success is monitoring for rebound hyperacidity (7). Regular follow-up over the following four to 12 weeks is critical to assess for and manage adverse symptoms to deprescribing PPIs.

Back to the case

Mrs. Jones has been on Pantoloc 40 mg orally twice a day for the last five years. She is also on vitamin B12 1000 mcg orally daily. You suspect the reason for her low b12 is prolonged use of PPI. A review of her history and records does not reveal any history of GERD symptoms. There is no prior history of GI bleed or endoscopy. She is not taking any over-the-counter NSAIDs. Using the guidelines and algorithm for deprescribing PPIs on (14), you reduce her Pantoloc to 40 mg once daily and follow up in four weeks. She tolerates this reduction with no symptoms of rebound hyperacidity. Pantoloc is stopped and you ask her to use 40 mg orally daily on demand for symptoms of heartburn, regurgitation or dyspepsia. Follow up after an additional four weeks shows on demand use five times in the last four weeks. The last use was about two weeks ago. She continues on demand use for another four weeks and this time does not use any PPI.


Long-term use of PPIs is not without risks. They should be reassessed and deprescribed when no longer indicated to reduce risk of adverse effects and pill burden.


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