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Certain types of drugs stem the production of stomach acid that can cause the painful burning feeling in the chest or throat known as heartburn.

One recent study found a link between one class of such medications — proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) — and kidney disease. Might PPIs also contribute to dementia?

THIS STUDY analyzed data on 73,679 adults age 75 and older, including 2,950 who took PPIs to treat gastrointestinal problems such as reflux, heartburn or peptic ulcers. All were free of dementia at the start of the study, but 29,510 received a dementia diagnosis in an eight-year period.

Those who regularly took one of several prescription PPIs were 44 percent more likely to have developed dementia than were those who did not take the heartburn drugs. Risk was slightly greater for men. Among the PPIs taken most often by study participants — omeprazole (Prilosec), pantoprazole (Protonix) and esomeprazole (Nexium) — risk was highest for Nexium.

WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? Older adults who take PPIs to quell heartburn. Available over-the-counter or by prescription, PPIs are generally well tolerated and carry minimal short-term side effects; the effect of long-term use is less clear. Other medicines used to counter heartburn include H2 blockers (histamine H2-receptor antagonists), which also reduce the secretion of stomach acid, and antacids, which neutralize acid in the stomach. Together, heartburn drugs are among the most commonly taken medications.

CAVEATS The data suggest but do not prove that taking PPIs can cause dementia. The researchers’ analysis accounted for some but not all factors that may have contributed to the development of dementia. PPI data was based on prescriptions; whether study participants also used over-the-counter PPIs was not indicated.

FIND THIS STUDY Feb. 15 online issue of JAMA Neurology (jamaneurology.com).

LEARN MORE ABOUT heartburn at familydoctor.org and mayoclinic.org