Dr. Marcus Thygeson once wrote his patients countless prescriptions for heartburn drugs -- Prevacid, Prilosec and Nexium -- the "little purple pills" of TV ads.
But several months ago, when his own doctor advised him to start taking the pills, he refused. "It was all I could do to get out of the office without a prescription," he said.
Thygeson, a gastroenterologist, has come to see the popular pills as a symbol of the excesses of modern medicine -- a powerful medication "handed out like water" in his words, amid mounting evidence that it may do more harm than good.
"It's a drug we've become very cavalier about," says Thygeson. "Now it's like front-line therapy if you so much as belch."
The heartburn drugs, known as proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs), are designed to reduce the body's ability to pump acid into the stomach. Today, they are among the nation's best-selling medications, with more than 119 million prescriptions written last year, in addition to over-the-counter sales. Experts have called them a godsend for ailments like acid reflux, a major cause of heartburn.