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This review examines the evidence for the development of adverse effects due to prolonged gastric acid suppression with proton pump inhibitors. Potential areas of concern regarding long-term proton pump inhibitor use have included: carcinoid formation; development of gastric adenocarcinoma (especially in patients with Helicobacter pylori infection); bacterial overgrowth; enteric infections; and malabsorption of fat, minerals, and vitamins.

Prolonged proton pump inhibitor use may lead to enterochromaffin-like cell hyperplasia, but has not been demonstrated to increase the risk of carcinoid formation. Long-term proton pump inhibitor treatment has not been documented to hasten the development or the progression of atrophic gastritis to intestinal metaplasia and gastric cancer, although long-term studies are required to allow definitive conclusions. At present, we do not recommend that patients be tested routinely for H. pylori infection when using proton pump inhibitors for prolonged periods. Gastric bacterial overgrowth does increase with acid suppression, but important clinical sequelae, such a higher rate of gastric adenocarcinoma, have not been seen. The risk of enteric infection may increase with acid suppression, although this does not seem to be a common clinical problem with prolonged proton pump inhibitor use. The absorption of fats and minerals does not appear to be significantly impaired with chronic acid suppression. However, vitamin B12 concentration may be decreased when gastric acid is markedly suppressed for prolonged periods (e.g. Zolllinger–Ellison syndrome), and vitamin B12 levels should probably be assessed in patients taking high-dose proton pump inhibitors for many years.

Thus, current evidence suggests that prolonged gastric acid suppression with proton pump inhibitors rarely, if ever, produces adverse events. Nevertheless, continued follow-up of patients taking proton pump inhibitors for extended periods will provide greater experience regarding the potential gastrointestinal adverse effects of long-term acid suppression.