Use of Acid Reflux Drugs Linked to Dementia Risk, Study Finds

A recent study has found a correlation between the prolonged use of widely prescribed acid reflux drugs and an increased risk of dementia. The study, released on Wednesday, was conducted by the American Academy of Neurology and focused on prescription medications known as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). These include drugs such as omeprazole (Prilosec), esomeprazole (Nexium), and lansoprazole (Prevacid).

Acid reflux, a condition where stomach acid flows back into the esophagus, causing irritation, is commonly treated with PPIs. These drugs work by targeting acid-producing enzymes in the stomach lining, providing relief for frequent acid reflux, stomach ulcers, and other digestive tract issues. While occasional acid reflux is normal, frequent occurrences can lead to gastroesophageal reflux disease, which may further lead to esophageal cancer.

Kamakshi Lakshminarayan, the study’s author and a researcher at the University of Minnesota, noted that while PPIs are effective in controlling acid reflux, previous studies have linked their long-term use to an increased risk of stroke, bone fractures, and chronic kidney disease. This study, supported by the National Institutes of Health, involved 5,712 participants aged 45 and older, with an average age of 75, none of whom had been previously diagnosed with dementia symptoms.

The study, which lasted for five and a half years, found that participants who had taken these medications for 4.4 years had a 33% higher risk of developing dementia compared to those who had never used these drugs. The participants were divided into four groups based on their duration of PPI use: up to 2.8 years, 2.8 to 4.4 years, over 4.4 years, or not at all.

After adjusting for factors such as age, sex, race, high blood pressure, and diabetes, the researchers found that the risk of dementia was significantly higher in the group that had used PPIs for 4.4 years. However, no increased risk was found in participants who had used the drugs for less than 4.4 years.

The study does have some limitations, including the possibility of inaccurate estimations due to participants potentially starting and stopping the drug between check-ins, or the use of over-the-counter medications. Despite these limitations, the researchers plan to further investigate their findings.

Lakshminarayan concluded by advising acid reflux patients to consult with their doctors before making any changes to their medication regimen. She emphasized that while there are various ways to treat acid reflux, such as maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding late meals, not all approaches work for everyone. She also warned that abruptly stopping these drugs could result in worsened symptoms.