Using certain acid reflux drugs linked to higher dementia risk

MINNEAPOLIS — Using certain acid reflux medications for an extended period of time may raise a patient’s risk of dementia by up to 33 percent, a new study warns. Researchers working with the American Academy of Neurology found that individuals who consumed proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) for over four-and-a-half years saw their likelihood of developing this serious cognitive condition increase significantly.

Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid enters the esophagus, commonly after meals or while someone is in a reclined position. Symptoms can include heartburn and ulcers. Recurring acid reflux may escalate to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which has the potential to cause esophageal cancer.

According to the National Institutes of Health, GERD affects between 18 and 28 percent of the U.S. population. PPIs function by inhibiting enzymes in the stomach lining responsible for acid production. The researchers clarify that their study doesn’t establish a direct relationship between taking acid reflux medications and the onset of dementia, but it does show a correlation.

“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,” says study author Professor Kamakshi Lakshminarayan Ph.D., of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health in Minneapolis, in a media release. “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.”

Scroll down to see which drugs count as PPIs

Omeprazole - medication for heartburn or acid reflux
Researchers found people who had been taking acid reflux drugs for more than 4.4 years had a 33% higher risk of developing dementia than people who never took the drugs.
(© Sherry Young –

The research encompassed over 5,700 participants, 45 and older, none of whom had dementia at the start of the study. The average age of participants was 75.

To examine acid reflux medication intake, the team scrutinized participants’ medications during study visits and annual telephone checkups. Among them, 1,490 (26%) had consumed these drugs. They were subsequently categorized based on the duration of their medication usage.

Throughout the average follow-up of approximately 5.5 years, 585 participants (10%) developed dementia. In an adjusted analysis considering age, sex, race, and health concerns like hypertension and diabetes, the study found that participants consuming acid reflux drugs for more than 4.4 years had a 33-percent elevated risk of dementia onset compared to non-users. Notably, taking these drugs for fewer than 4.4 years did not increase dementia risk.

“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,” concludes Prof. Lakshminarayan.

Which acid reflux drugs are PPIs?

Proton pump inhibitors are available under many names and brands. While most of these drugs work equally well, their side-effects may vary from drug to drug. PPIs include:

  • Omeprazole (Prilosec), available over-the-counter (without a prescription)
  • Esomeprazole (Nexium), available over-the-counter
  • Lansoprazole (Prevacid), available over-the-counter
  • Rabeprazole (AcipHex)
  • Pantoprazole (Protonix)
  • Dexlansoprazole (Dexilant)
  • Zegerid (omeprazole with sodium bicarbonate), available over-the-counter (without a prescription)

The study is published in the journal Neurology.

South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.

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