Woman suffering from heart burn holding her chest

Your Health, Men's Health, Women's Health | 4 years ago

Are Your Heartburn Drugs Tied to Dementia?

Common heartburn drugs known as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are widely available to consumers, but researchers are exploring the risks associated with these drugs.

If you're suffering from acid reflux – commonly referred to as heartburn – you're not alone. Roughly 7 million people in the United States report suffering from at least one symptom of acid reflux. And 6 in 10 adults will experience symptoms within a year’s time. 

Before you reach for a pill to provide relief from your heartburn, you should talk to your doctor about the side effects associated with conventional over-the-counter and prescription drugs known as proton pump inhibitors, including Prevacid, Prilosec and Nexium. These drugs are associated with side effects ranging from infections to bone fractures to kidney problems, and now there's research exploring a connection between PPIs and dementia.

What Have We Learned from The Research?

A study in JAMA Neurology looked at 73,000 men and women over 75, free of dementia and taking a PPI. Over a period of more than five years, nearly 40 percent of them developed Alzheimer's disease or a form of dementia.

The analysis of research didn’t provide a conclusive link between PPIs and dementia, but the outcomes reinforce the importance of including your doctor in the decision-making process when considering options to dull your heartburn symptoms. "There are a variety of medical conditions and medications which can increase the risk of cognitive impairment," says Eric Rinehardt, PhD, chief neuropsychologist at Atrium Health (formerly Carolinas HealthCare System). "If you can manage your condition with healthy lifestyle changes, like diet and exercise, then that option is typically preferred over using medication."

Should I Stop Taking Proton Pump Inhibitors?

Using PPIs doesn’t necessarily mean you're heading down a path toward dementia. "The overall evidence associating PPIs and dementia is inconsistent," says Dr. Rinehardt. "While there are some studies which found associations, there are just as many which don't find any link between PPIs and dementia." The most important part of any treatment regimen? Monitoring any side effects and maintaining an open line of communication with your doctor. "Many of my patients are on PPIs," says Rinehardt. 

How Do I know If I'm Experiencing Dementia?

Early signs of dementia include memory loss, word-finding difficulties during a conversation, and problems with daily living activities, such as:

  • Getting lost
  • Forgetting items
  • Mismanaging daily medications
  • Mismanaging daily finances

If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, contact your doctor. For more research and information on dementia, or to schedule an appointment with a physician, please contact the Carolinas HealthCare System Neurosciences Institute.