It is common to treat symptoms of heartburn, indigestion and other related conditions with acid reflux medications. However, ConsumerAffairs.com reports
that a new study has found possible links between these medications and cognitive disorders, such as dementia.
Acid reflux medications, typically, contain proton pump inhibitors (PPI) which decrease the amount of acid secreted by the stomach. Such medication is most commonly used to treat conditions such as peptic ulcer disease, gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GERD), stomach ulcers, erosive oesophagitis and even heartburn. Typically, such mediation does not require a prescription and, while it is recommended for short-term use of four to eight weeks, chronic use is unfortunately quite common.
The new study, published in the journal Neurology, has found that patients, who were prescribed certain acid reflux medications for several years, were at a higher risk of dementia compared to those who did not take such medications. Results indicated that people who took the drugs for more than 4.4 years had a higher incidence of dementia than those who did not take the drugs.
Dr Kamakshi Lakshminarayan, lead author on the new study said, “Proton pump inhibitors are a useful tool to help control acid reflux, however long-term use has been linked in previous studies to a higher risk of stroke, bone fractures and chronic kidney disease. Still, some people take these drugs regularly, so we examined if they are linked to a higher risk of dementia. While we did not find a link with short-term use, we did find a higher risk of dementia associated with long-term use of these drugs.”
For the study, researchers looked only at prescription medications and excluded over-the-counter medications. They analysed healthcare data from 5,712 people with an average age of 75 years. The use of PPIs was determined by reviewing medications during study visits and yearly phone calls. Altogether, 26% of the participants or 1,490 people had taken PPIs.
These participants were further split into four groups according to how long they had taken medications: those who had no history of taking the drugs, those who took the drugs for up to 2.8 years, those who took the drugs between 2.8 and 4.4 years and those who took the drugs for over 4.4 years.
Their health was then monitored for an average of 5.5 years. During this time, 10% of the participants developed dementia, including 9.8% of people who did not take the medications and 11.7% of those who did. After adjusting for factors including age, sex and health-related factors such as high blood pressure and diabetes, the researchers found that those taking PPIs for over 4.4 years were 33% more likely to develop dementia than those who did not take such medications. In contrast, those who took such drugs for less than 4.4 years did not have a higher incidence of dementia.
The conclusions drawn from this study, however, need further examination to better understand the health risks. As the researchers explained, their findings only show an association between acid reflux medication and dementia and not a direct cause between the two.
“More research is needed to confirm our findings and explore reasons for the possible link between long-term proton pump inhibitor use and a higher risk of dementia. While there are various ways to treat acid reflux, such as taking antacids, maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding late meals and certain foods, different approaches may not work for everyone,” explained Dr Lakshminarayan. “It is important that people taking these medications speak with their doctor before making any changes, to discuss the best treatment for them and because stopping these drugs abruptly may result in worse symptoms.”