Heartburn

23 August 2017

This scary side effect of heartburn meds is a myth

According to new research, drugs such as Nexium or Prilosec, used to treat chronic heartburn, are not linked to dementia.

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There is effective medication for heartburn – an uncomfortable, burning sensation that happens when stomach contents move back up into the aesophagus – but sufferers are scared that this medication may increase their risk for Alzheimer's disease. 

The medications that can alleviate the problems associated with heartburn are called called proton pump inhibitors (e.g. Prilosec, Nexium and Prevacid). Proton pump inhibitors work by reducing the production of stomach acid.

Fortunately a new study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology shows that widely used heartburn drugs called proton pump inhibitors do not appear to increase the risk of Alzheimer's.

Two previous studies reported a higher risk of dementia among people who took the drugs, which are commonly used by older adults.

Study findings

But this new study found that use of the drugs was not associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer's, even among those who took a higher dose or used the drugs for more than three years.

The findings are from an analysis of data from Finland on nearly 71 000 Alzheimer's disease patients and nearly 283 000 people without the disease.

The study shows people need not avoid the drugs due to fears about developing Alzheimer's, said the University of Eastern Finland researchers led by Heidi Taipale, a postdoctoral researcher.

Other side effects 

But long-term use should be carefully considered, because it has been linked with decreased calcium and vitamin B12 absorption and with serious intestinal infections, the study authors said in a university news release.

The researchers said more than one-third of older persons use proton pump inhibitors.

According to a Health24 article, the first generic version of Nexium was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, making the drug more accessible. 

Treating heartburn

While occasional heartburn can be easily treated with over-the-counter medication, chronic heartburn chronic heartburn or acid reflux can be an indication of GORD (gastro-oesophageal reflux disease) and the need to see a doctor for a professional diagnosis. You may have other symptoms like cough, sore throat laryngitis and a tight chest. 

According to Health24, gastro-oesophageal reflux disorders are mainly treated by medication. Most people find that antacids, taken before and after meals and at bedtime, successfully control their symptoms. Antacids neutralise acids in the gastrointestinal system.

Some lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking and alcohol might help, and in the worst cases, surgery may be a patient's last resort.

Image supplied by iStock.