CNN – Millions of Americans take medications known as proton pump inhibitors [Nexium, Prilosec, Prevacid] every day to treat heartburn and acid reflux, and in recent years, these drugs, also known as PPIs, have been linked to a greater risk of kidney failure, stroke, and early death from any cause.
And new research suggests that there may also be a higher risk of dementia for people who take the medications over several years.
People 45 and up who took PPIs for over four years had a 33% higher risk of developing dementia than people who never took the drugs, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Neurology.
Dementia is not a single disease but an open-ended term for memory loss and cognitive decline caused by damage to brain cells.
PPIs reduce stomach acid by targeting the enzymes in the stomach lining that produce that acid. They are often used to treat symptoms of acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD, a serious form of acid reflux in which food or liquid moves up from the stomach to the esophagus.
PPIs are widely available over the counter and often used to treat heartburn, the mild burning sensation you get with acid reflux.
People who occasionally take these medications after a barbecue shouldn’t be worried, experts say.
Study author Dr. Kamakshi Lakshminarayan, a neurologist at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health in Minneapolis and a member of the American Academy of Neurology, told CNN in an email:
“This study does not prove that acid reflux drugs cause dementia.
“It only shows an association. More research is needed to confirm our findings in other large study groups and understand the possible link between long-term proton pump inhibitor use and higher risk of dementia … ”