Fact Checked

What is Pantoprazole?

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) noted in a 2004 study that approximately one in five adults in America, or 20% of the US population, suffered from some form of gastroesophageal reflux (GER) or its longer-lasting counterpart gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). A later study, composed in 2014, found that the percentage of the affected population had risen to as high as 28% throughout North America. These health issues cause damage to the esophagus over time, and occur when the stomach produces too much acid for its digestive needs. The excess acid then travels up the esophagus, damaging the smooth, slippery lining and causing an uncomfortable and potentially serious burning sensation. 

While doctors typically recommend lifestyle changes to combat the severity and frequency of GER and other “heartburn” type health concerns, they aren’t always completely effective. These changes may include avoiding acid-triggering foods in the patient’s diet, such as red wine, spicy foods, and citrus fruits like lemons and oranges. In appropriate cases, a weight loss regimen may also be recommended, as obesity is considered a risk factor for both GER and GERD. When treatments like these are proven to be ineffectual or aren’t viable in terms of lifestyle, a doctor is likely to prescribe a PPI, or “proton pump inhibitor” medication like pantoprazole to reduce stomach acid production at the source. If you’ve been prescribed pantoprazole for your own GER, GERD, or heartburn-like symptoms, here’s everything you may need to know about your new acid-reducing medication. 

What Is Pantoprazole Sodium?

Part of the class of medications known as PPIs, or proton pump inhibitors, generic pantoprazole sodium is manufactured by pharmaceutical company Pfizer and is sold under the brand name Protonix. This medication was first examined in 1985, used medically in Germany in 1994, and licensed by the FDA for medical use in 2000. By 2017 more than 27 million US prescriptions for the drug had been written in that year alone, making it the 19th most popular US prescription. It is available by prescription only, and sold in several milligram options as well as both a traditional and extended-release pill format.

 What Is Pantoprazole Used to Treat?

In addition to active treatment of GER, GERD, and other acid reflux disorders, pantoprazole may also be used to keep stomach acid at bay while an acid-injured esophagus heals – a condition known as erosive esophagitis. Like many over-the-counter medications designed to help combat acid reflux and similar health issues, pantoprazole sodium isn’t intended for long-term usage, with prescribed courses generally reserved to eight weeks or less. In certain chronic symptomatic cases, however, doctors may prescribe the medication as an ongoing treatment if it is well tolerated by the patient.  Below, several medical conditions commonly treated with pantoprazole:

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease: Treatment of GERD is one of the most popular uses for pantoprazole. As a PPI medication, it has proven very effective at preventing the buildup and subsequent pain and discomfort of stomach acid that comes with the diagnosis. While patients are often initially prescribed pantoprazole sodium to help alleviate symptoms and flare-ups of acid reflux symptoms, they are often switched to similar, longer-term medications like omeprazole after a few weeks. These alternate medications also offer symptom relief, and are more well-tolerated for ongoing usage.

Ulcers: The stomach is a delicately balanced stop along the digestive system, and when the balance is upended, it causes painful internal sores called ulcers. Ulcers occur when the thick internal mucus layer that protects the stomach lining from digestive acids becomes weakened or thin, allowing the acids to burn or damage the lining. 

Duodenal ulcers are caused by a bacteria called helicobacter pylori, and form where the stomach meets the small intestine. The course of treatment used for these types of ulcers calls for an antibiotic in addition to the symptom-managing course of pantoprazole. The first medication kills the bacteria, while the latter controls the pain and discomfort of the acid reflux caused by the ulcers. 

Peptic and gastric ulcers are a different type of ulcer with the same symptoms of pain and discomfort: these form in response to ongoing or overuse of anti-inflammatory medicines. Like duodenal ulcers, these tend to form where the stomach and small intestine meet. Treating peptic ulcers requires the patient either stop taking their anti-inflammatory medicine or change the variety taken, symptom control through pantoprazole, and dietary changes to eliminate common acidic foods. 

Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome: Though considerably more rare than acid reflux due to GER/GERD or ulcers, Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome affects the body in a similar way. Those afflicted by the syndrome grow gastrinomas, hormone-secreting tumors that signal the stomach to produce an overabundance of acid. This acid then travels up the esophagus, causing pain and erosion. Because the syndrome is very difficult to cure, pantoprazole may be prescribed as symptom management for much longer than the traditional 8-week-or-less window; years, in some cases. 

 How Does Pantoprazole Work?

Proton pump inhibitor medications like pantoprazole sodium work, as their name suggests, by preventing the stomach’s acid pumps from creating too much digestive acid. Once the medication is absorbed into the bloodstream, it travels to the pumps and uses chemicals to compel them to produce less (or no) acid. Because it isn’t strong enough to trigger a complete shutdown of all proton pumps, enough acid remains in the stomach to continue healthy digestion. The overall volume, however, is reduced enough that it stops traveling back up the esophagus and creating the burning, pain, and swallowing difficulty caused by acid reflux. 

What Are The Benefits Of Pantoprazole?

With such extensive use by millions of users over the last two decades, pantoprazole has had a great deal of time to prove itself as an effective medication. Prescribed to treat a variety of stomach acid-related injuries and illnesses, it’s been found safe for use with most other drugs, and offers a lower risk of drug interaction than some medications in the PPI family of medicines as illustrated below:

  • No contraindication or specific risk has been found for pantoprazole use in elderly patients, adults, and young patients over the age of 5.
  • Pantoprazole sodium is effective at treating virtually all acid reflux-producing ailments, helping to eliminate both pain and discomfort.
  • This medication has not been found to have an addictive component or potential for abuse.
  • In addition to reducing active excess acid, pantoprazole helps heal esophageal and stomach ulcers when taken along with appropriate support medicine and / or lifestyle changes.

Are There Any Risks Associated With Pantoprazole?

Considered generally safe for medical symptom management, like all medications, pantoprazole isn’t necessarily right for everyone. Before beginning a new medication, it’s very important to discuss your existing medications and lifestyle with your doctor, and read all associated literature that will come with your first prescription. Below, some helpful dosage guidelines and general drug information:

  • Pantoprazole in tablet or pill form should always be taken whole unless directed otherwise by a doctor. Breaking, splitting, or powdering a pill can result in poor absorption or dangerous effects in “slow release”-style prescriptions. 
  • Some patients on pantoprazole can produce a false positive on THC (marijuana) urine drug tests, as well as certain diagnostic tests. For safety and clarity, always give your medical providers a full list of all medications you are currently taking. 
  • In some patients, taking pantoprazole sodium for longer periods of time, or taking it more than once a day, may increase the risk for bone injuries, particularly in the elderly or those with existing bone-compromising issues.
  • This medication should not be taken along with other medications containing an ingredient called rilpivirine; these include brand names Odefsey, Juluca, Edurant, Complera, and others.
  • Patients with known allergies to similar proton pump inhibitor medications (such as Prevacid, Nexium, and generic omeprazole) should avoid taking pantoprazole.

What Are The Side Effects Of Pantoprazole?

This medication does have listed side effects, and patients taking it for the first time will need to be vigilant for each of them. If side effects occur after initially taking pantoprazole, be sure to contact your doctor to determine if it is safe for you to continue taking it.  The following are commonly-reported side effects for pantoprazole:

  • Blurred or unclear vision
  • A dry mouth sensation
  • Skin that feels flushed and dry
  • An inexplicable fruity odor to the breath
  • An unusual increase in hunger or thirst
  • An unusual increase in urination. 
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Sudden and unexplained weight loss
  • Difficulty breathing and/or sweating

As in the case of any prescription medication, in the event of a drug-related allergic reaction or medical emergency, report to your nearest hospital.

Who Should Not Take Pantoprazole?

While skilled at minimizing or eliminating the symptoms of acid reflux, pantoprazole isn’t an appropriate medication for users that have shown sensitivities to PPI-family medications in the past, individuals with bone density complications, patients younger than 5 years of age, and any patient taking medications that could be affected (contraindicated) by pantoprazole. Additionally, all potential users of pantoprazole should discuss their lifestyle, treatment plan, and medical concerns with their doctor before starting the medication.  

If you’ve been prescribed pantoprazole and want to start taking it to reduce the painful symptoms of acid reflux disorders, head to your local pharmacy to fill your prescription, as this medication is not available over the counter. If you want to be sure you’re getting the best price on pantoprazole sodium, be sure to have your USA Rx discount card ready at the register, too. 

 

Sources Cited:

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3)      “Pantoprazole (Oral Route).” Mayo Clinic (mayoclinic.org), (no publish date), https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/pantoprazole-oral-route/before-using/drg-20071434. Accessed May 30, 2020.

4)      Locke III, G. Richard; M.D., Associate Professor of Medicine, Mayo Medical School, Rochester, MN. “The Prevalence and Impact of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease.” IFFGD (International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders/iffgd.org), September 2019, https://www.aboutgerd.org/prevalence.html. Accessed May 30, 2020.

5)      “Pantoprazole.” Drugs.com, (no publish date), https://www.drugs.com/pantoprazole.html. Accessed May 30, 2020

6)      “Pantoprazole Sodium.” ClinCalc.com, (no publish date), https://clincalc.com/DrugStats/Drugs/PantoprazoleSodium. Accessed May 30, 2020.