What is a Proton Pump Inhibitor? - Examples & Side Effects

Instructor: Lynee Carter
From this lesson you will learn about how proton pump inhibitors are types of medications that treat certain gastrointestinal problems, including some examples and major side effects.


Let's say that you've just eaten lunch 30 minutes ago and now have a burning sensation in your chest. Did you know this feeling could be from the acid in your stomach traveling back into the esophagus? Although stomach acid is necessary to properly digest food, it can cause problems if the amount increases and it doesn't stay in the stomach. After taking medications that only neutralize stomach acid, there are also alternatives that can be more effective.



Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are types of medications that reduce stomach acid. Your gastrointestinal system has pumps that move proton molecules called hydrogen ions into the stomach that are responsible for making the acid that breaks down the food you eat. PPIs work by preventing large amounts of hydrogen ions into the stomach. This makes the acid weak and less irritating to gastrointestinal tissue.

Here are some examples of PPIs. Notice that all their generic names end with 'zole':

  • esomeprazole (Nexium)
  • lansoprazole (Prevacid)
  • omeprazole (Prilosec)
  • pantoprazole (Protonix)
  • rabeprazole (Aciphex)

Prilosec and Prevacid are the only two types that don't require a prescription from the doctor. However, they all help treat conditions like gastrointestinal disease (GERD), heartburn, and stomach ulcers that produce unpleasant, burning symptoms when there's too much acid in the stomach. Their function also allows tissues of the esophagus and intestine time to heal that have been damaged by stomach acid. They are more effective when taken on an empty stomach, one hour before eating, and can manage symptoms for a 24-hour period.


Side Effects

PPIs can have some negative side effects on the body, particularly in the gastrointestinal, musculoskeletal, and respiratory systems.

Gastrointestinal System Problems

PPIs can cause the gastrointestinal system to be more susceptible to harmful bacteria that enter the body through the mouth and go into the stomach. Normal levels of stomach acid would kill certain bacteria. However the effects of PPIs reducing the stomach acid level prevent this from occurring. This can lead to severe diarrhea and other gastrointestinal problems such as constipation, gas, nausea, and vomiting.

Musculoskeletal System Problems

PPIs can decrease calcium and magnesium levels in the body. These vitamins are needed for you to have healthy bones and muscles. Low levels of calcium can cause bones to be fragile which can lead to conditions such as osteoporosis and fractures. Low levels of magnesium can cause the muscles not to work properly which can lead to muscle spasms, tremors, irregular heartbeats, and seizures.

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