Reviewed by Laura Martin on July 28, 2016

Sources

Gomm, W. JAMA Neurology, April 2016.; Kuller, L. JAMA Neurology, April 2016.

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Video Transcript

MICHAEL SMITH, MD: If you regularly take certain medicines for heartburn, you might think twice before you pop that pill. Drugs like Nexium, Prevacid, and Prilosec are called proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs, and they've been linked to a bigger risk for dementia.

PPIs reduce the amount of acid that your stomach makes. That's how they help heartburn. But they also may increase the amount of a harmful protein that builds up in the brains of people with dementia.

Now, that doesn't prove they CAUSE dementia. In the study, the people who were taking these drugs had other problems, like being in poorer health and taking many other medicines that are also linked with dementia. So it could be that's what's really driving up the risk.

So what should you do? People who REALLY need these drugs should take them -- with their doctor's supervision, of course. That means using the lowest dose for the shortest time.

And it won't hurt to take one if you have heartburn every once in a while. But if you have regular reflux, other things might help instead. Try these steps first: Lose weight. Quit smoking. Eat smaller meals. Skip alcohol and chocolate. Try raising the head of your bed.

If those don't work, talk to your doctor.

For WebMD, I'm Dr. Michael Smith.