Do Popular Heartburn Drugs Increase Your Risk For Dementia?

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You may have heard news reports linking a popular group of heartburn medications known as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) to an increased risk for dementia. PPIs, available over the counter and by prescription under brand names like Prevacid, Prilosec and Nexium, are commonly used to treat gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and peptic ulcers.

Should you stop taking these drugs?

Breaking Down the Study

What the study shows: German researchers found that over a 7-year period, people 75 years of age and older who routinely took PPIs had a 44% increased risk dementia compared to people who did not use the drugs. Study participants did not have dementia at the start of the study.

What the study does not show: Researchers did not conclude that PPIs cause dementia, nor could they explain how PPIs might cause the variety of dementia diagnoses participants developed: unspecified dementia (31%), Alzheimer’s disease (3%), vascular dementia (6%), and senile degeneration (1%).

Other Risk Factors Identified

Researchers also found the following factors increased study participants’ risk for developing dementia:

The study was unable to determine the presence of the ApoE4 allele, a genetic factor associated with an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s type dementia. In addition, data on the educational level of participants was not available. Low education is associated with an increased risk of developing dementia.

Shared Risk Factors: GERD and Dementia

Many of the risk factors for developing GERD (obesity, alcohol consumption, smoking, diabetes, poor diet, and certain medications) are themselves risk factors for developing dementia.

Therefore, the study may indicate that older persons with GERD, many of whom are treated with PPIs, are in poorer health overall and are more likely to develop dementias due to their lifestyle choices.

The Bottom Line

The authors noted that further study is needed to determine if there is a direct cause and effect relationship between PPIs and dementia. The best advice is to talk with your doctor who can help you determine if PPIs are the right choice for you. It’s also important to be aware of the warming signs of dementia.

Warning Signs of Dementia

An early warning sign of dementia is memory loss that disrupts daily life:

  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks at work, home or during leisure activities.
  • Having more trouble managing the monthly bills, recipes, or directions to familiar places.
  • Confusion regarding time and place.
  • Increased problems speaking, reading or writing.
  • Frequently misplacing things and being unable to recall where or how to find them.
  • Decreased or poor judgment related to finances, being preyed on by scammers.
  • Declines in bathing, dressing and grooming.
  • Loss of inhibition or withdrawal from social settings.
  • Changes in mood and personality: being more confused, suspicious, anxious, fearful, angry or depressed.

If you or a loved one notices these types of changes, seeking a physician consult to assess cognition and rule out treatable causes of confusion and mood declines is important.

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author name

Christopher Vargo, BA, BSN, RN, MS, CRNP

Christopher Vargo, BA, BSN, RN, MS, CRNP, is a nurse practitioner with the Lancaster General Health Alzheimer’s and Memory Care Program. Vargo has extensive experience working with patients in continuing care retirement communities.

Education: BA, Biological Sciences–LaSalle University; BS in Nursing–University of Delaware; MS in Nursing–Penn State University

Call: 717-544-3539

About LG Health Hub

The LG Health Hub features breaking medical news and straightforward advice to help individuals of all ages make healthy choices and reach their wellness goals. The blog puts articles by trusted Lancaster General Health clinical experts, good 'n healthy recipes, videos, patient stories, and health risk assessments at your fingertips.


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