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Heartburn drugs may increase risk of dementia


A new study suggests that a popular class of heartburn medications, called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), might raise the risk of dementia in people aged 75 or older, nwitimes reports.

The report was published Feb. 15 in the journal JAMA Neurology.

This group of heartburn drugs includes Prilosec, Nexium and Prevacid. The medication lowers the amount of acid produced by the stomach.

"To evaluate cause-and-effect relationships between long-term PPI use and possible effects on cognition in the elderly, randomized, prospective clinical trials are needed," said corresponding author Britta Haenisch, from the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Bonn.

In the meantime, "Clinicians should follow guidelines for PPI prescription, to avoid overprescribing PPIs and inappropriate use," Haenisch said.

The German researchers found that people 75 or older who regularly take the heartburn medications had a 44 percent increased risk of dementia, compared with seniors who were not using the drugs.

However, the study did not find a cause-and-effect link.

"I'm going to disclose the finding to my patients and then let them decide whether they will take the risk or not," said Boustani, a professor of medicine with the Indiana University Center for Aging Research and a spokesman for the American Federation for Aging Research.

According to a report by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, More than 15 million Americans used prescription PPIs in 2013, at a total cost of more than $10 billion.  

According to the new study, PPIs have an effect on levels of amyloid beta and tau, which are proteins associated with Alzheimer's disease. The medications can also lead to vitamin B12 deficiency, which is linked with cognitive decline.

"Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are widely used for the treatment of gastrointestinal diseases but have also been shown to be potentially involved in cognitive decline," the researchers wrote in their study, according to Tech Times.

"The avoidance of PPI medication may prevent the development of dementia."

For the study, the German researchers collected data from a large German health insurance firm on almost 74,000 seniors aged 75 or older, from the years 2004 to 2011.

About 2,950 patients regularly used PPIs, which was defined as one PPI prescription in each quarter of an 18-month interval.

The study found that regular users of PPIs had a 44 percent increased risk of dementia compared with those not receiving PPI medications.

Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs and outreach for the Alzheimer's Association, said that the study was not extensive enough to warn patients off PPI use.

"It does not tell us anything that should change medical practice right now," Fargo said. "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."

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