The risk of developing dementia later in life could be increased by taking heartburn medication for more than 4.4 years.

A recent study analysed the effects of proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), drugs that are taken by more than 15 million people in the United States and the United Kingdom for acid reflux and heartburn.

Researchers studied data from a healthy study involving 712 people, aged from 45 to 64 who were asked what medications they took from the late 1980s until 2011, when they reached an average age of 75, to calculate the amount of they took PPIs.

They participants were followed up with for an average of five and a half years, during which 10% of them developed dementia.

Results showed that participants who had taken PPIs for more than 4.4 years had a 33% greater risk of developing dementia than those who did not take PPIs. There was no difference in the risk of developing dementia for those who took PPIs for less than 4.4 years.

Dr Kamakshi Lakshminarayan, senior author of the study from the University of Minnesota, said: “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.

“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.

“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.”

Acid reflux happens when stomach acid enters the gullet and causes heartburn and ulcers. PPIs reduce the stomach acid by targeting the enzymes that produce the acid in the stomach lining.

It is suspected that PPIs lead to a lower level of the vitamin B12 which can cause brain issues.

Past studies have identified no association between PPIs and dementia, however, they did not analyse the long term use of the drugs.

Researchers also took into account other factors, such as age and blood pressure, that could increase the risk of developing dementia but they did not effect the results.

Participants were asked whether they were taking PPIs or had their prescriptions checked once a year and this counted as taking the drug for a full year even though they could hav estopped taking the drug during this time. This means that the 4.4 year average of taking PPIs that was associated with developing dementia may be inaccurate.

The study was published in the journal Neurology.

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