Popular Heartburn Drugs Linked to Significant Dementia Risk

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A new study concludes that avoiding some heartburn medications "may prevent the development of dementia." How are doctors reacting?

A popular class of heartburn drugs is associated with a “significantly increased risk” of dementia in the elderly, a new study shows.

An analysis of data on German patients, published Monday by the American journal JAMA Neurology, found that the patients who regularly use a type of antacid known as proton pump inhibitors were 44 percent more likely to develop dementia compared with patients who were not receiving those medications.

PPIs reduce the amount of acid in the stomach, according to the National Institutes of Health. They include:

  • Omeprazole (Prilosec), which is also available over-the-counter
  • Esomeprazole (Nexium)
  • Lansoprazole (Prevacid)
  • Rabeprazole (AcipHex)
  • Pantoprazole (Protonix)

Dementia refers not to a specific disease but to a group of symptoms caused by disorders that affect the brain, such as Alzheimer’s disease or a stroke, according to the NIH. People with dementia have serious problems with at least two brain functions like memory or language.

The German study’s connecting of PPI use and dementia risk is an association rather than a cause-and-effect relationship, however.

Study co-author Britta Haenisch of the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases tells HealthDay News that clinical trials would be needed to establish a cause-and-effect relationship.

The German study was based on an analysis of observational data from 2004 to 2011 from Germany’s largest statutory health insurer, Allgemeine Ortskrankenkasse. The data covered more than 73,000 patients who were at least 75 years old and free of dementia at the outset.

The study concludes that avoiding PPI medication “may prevent the development of dementia.”

Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs and outreach for the Alzheimer’s Association, tells HealthDay that the study does not merit doctors warning their patients away from PPIs:

“It does not tell us anything that should change medical practice right now. I don’t think there’s going to be an uprising among doctors telling patients not to take their PPIs. This doesn’t rise anywhere near the level of evidence you would need for that.”

Dr. Malaz Boustani, professor of medicine at the Indiana University Center for Aging Research and spokesperson for the American Federation for Aging Research, tells HealthDay he will let his patients decide for themselves:

“I’m going to disclose the finding to my patients and then let them decide whether they will take the risk or not.”

Would you take the risk? Sound off in our Forums. It’s the place where you can speak your mind, explore topics in-depth, and post questions and get answers.

Stacy Johnson

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