Taking acid reflux medications for four and a half years or more can lead to a higher risk of dementia, researchers have said.
Scientists have found that people taking prescription medication for acid reflux over several years could have a higher risk of developing dementia.
Acid reflux is when stomach acid flows back into your food pipe, which can cause a burning pain in your chest called heartburn.
It can also cause ulcers or gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, which can lead to cancer of the oesophagus.
A study published this month in the journal Neurology has now linked proton pump inhibitors, which reduce stomach acid by targeting enzymes in the stomach, to 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,” said study author Kamakshi Lakshminarayan of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health in a statement.
The recent study included more than 5,700 people aged 45 and older who did not have dementia at the beginning of the study.
Researchers separated participants into four groups based on whether participants took the drugs and the length of time that they were taking them. They were followed for a median duration of 5.5 years.
7.8 million Europeans living with dementia
They found that participants who took the drugs for more than 4.4 years had a 33 per cent higher risk of developing dementia.
But there was no higher risk for people who took the drugs for fewer than 4.4 years, the researchers said.
“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,” added 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”.
One limitation of the study was that participants were asked about what drugs they were taking once a year, with researchers estimating their use between checks.
Proton pump inhibitors are some of the most frequently prescribed drug classes in Europe and the US but using these medicines has previously been linked to stroke, chronic kidney disease, and bone loss.
Dementia is an umbrella term for loss of cognitive functioning including memory, problem-solving and other thinking abilities that impacts daily life.
An estimated 7.8 million people have dementia in the European Union, according to Alzheimer Europe.
“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,” said Lakshminarayan.