Deciphering the Link Between Acid Reflux Medication and Dementia

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  • A recent study published by JAMA Neurology associates a popular class of acid reflux medications (Proton Pump Inhibitors or PPIs) with risk of dementia.
  • While acid reflux medications may increase the risk of certain side effects, they continue to prevent acid reflux-induced issues that could lead to serious complications and invasive surgeries.
  • Patients concerned with their acid reflux medications should consult their doctor before stopping treatment.

Over the past two weeks at Highland Village Family Medicine, several of our patients have expressed concern about their acid reflux treatment in the wake of a recent study published by JAMA Neurology. The study found associations between a popular class of acid reflux medications (also called Proton Pump Inhibitors or PPIs) with the risk of dementia and cognitive decline in elderly patients.

These PPIs are more widely recognized under brand names such as Nexium, Prilosec, Protonix, Prevacid, and Zegerid.

If you are concerned and considering ending your acid reflux treatment, we recommend you make an appointment to talk with your doctor first. We want to decipher your acid reflux treatment in ways that are reasonable, in alignment with your other health needs, and adequately weighed against risks presented to you in the event you need treatment.

The Truth About PPI Side Effects

All medicines carry side effects, including PPIs. PPI side effects have been known for quite some time: pneumonia, gastrointestinal infections such as C. difficile, and, more recently, chronic kidney disease.

Still, we often choose to recommend PPIs as treatment to patients suffering from acid reflux and gastric ulcers—and not just to relieve your discomfort. Acid reflux has the potential to cause serious issues such as esophageal cancer and ulcers. Prior to the advent of PPI therapy, patients suffering from ulcers were routinely subjected to invasive surgeries such as partial gastrectomy (where a portion of the stomach is removed), selective vagotomies (where a portion of the vagus nerve is cut), and fundoplication (where the stomach is manipulated and reshaped).

PPIs have revolutionized acid reflux and ulcer treatment, making these once common surgeries obsolete. So while PPIs can have side effects, their benefits typically outweigh a decision to end treatment for many of our patients.

I’m currently taking acid reflux medication. What should I do?

If your doctor has recommended you take PPIs:
Continue use until you talk to your doctor and they decided otherwise. Your doctor may decide to end your PPI treatment or recommend alternate medications for managing your acid reflux.

If your doctor is unaware you are taking PPIs:
Tell your doctor at your next appointment so they can account for these medications while addressing your other health needs. Formerly prescription only medications, PPIs are now available over the counter, which has increased patient access. Many patients view over-the-counter medications as less serious than prescriptions and as a result fail to tell their doctor about the PPIs they're taking. Always make your doctor aware of your nonprescription medications as they may affect or interact with other treatments.