Heartburn medications associated with higher dementia risk

Proton-pump inhibitor drugs such as Nexium, Prevacid and Prilosec are among the most used, however several recent studies have linked them to the development of other diseases.

By Stephen Feller

WASHINGTON, Feb. 15 (UPI) -- The number of potential side effects from the use of proton-pump inhibiting drugs to control heartburn continues to grow, with new research in Germany linking them to the development of dementia.

A new study links the widely used PPIs -- which include Nexium, Prevacid and Prilosec -- to an increased risk for cognitive decline, though researchers caution the study has limitations, and does not show a definite cause.


PPIs have recently been linked to kidney disease, heart disease, and deficiencies of B12 and other vitamins. While patients have reported side effects of the drugs, not taking them often results in stomach pains and worse heartburn as the drug leaves their systems.

"It does not tell us anything that should change medical practice right now," Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs and outreach for the Alzheimer's Association, told CBS News. "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."

For the study, published in JAMA Neurology, researchers analyzed patient data collected from 2004 to 2011 by the German health insurer Allgemeine Ortskrankenkassen for 73,679 of its customers.


The patients, who were 75 years or older and did not have dementia, on PPI drugs showed a 44 percent increased risk of dementia compared with those who did not use them. Researchers said in the study the data is supported by recent studies with mice that found rodents on PPIs had increased levels of amyloid plaques in their brains, the buildup of which contributed to dementia.

Researchers and doctors note that these studies have not accounted for lifestyle or diet, both of which affect the risk for dementia, or other diseases for which PPIs may increase risk.

"The teaching for many years was that these drugs were quite safe," John Clarke, a gastroenterologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital, told NPR. "But there is data that's emerging that suggests PPIs may not be as safe as we think they are."

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