Digestive Health

Do heartburn meds increase the risk of cognitive decline?

Book Now with a Gastroenterologist
Woman in white knit sweater smiling while a little girls licks icing off a spoon


Learn the facts about the potential link between heartburn medications and dementia so you can make informed choices about your digestive health and overall well-being.


By Scott Estabrook, MD, Section Chief and Medical Director, Gastroenterology, Nuvance Health


Heartburn is a common problem that we all experience occasionally. It causes a painful burning sensation in your chest when acid from your stomach splashes back up into your esophagus. Many people take heartburn drugs regularly to control their symptoms. However, recent studies show that certain medications intended to help relieve your heartburn symptoms may increase your risk for dementia.


Here’s what you need to know about the potential link between heartburn medications and the risk of cognitive decline.


Learn more about acid reflux and take a heartburn quiz.


Understanding heartburn medications and the side effects

Different kinds of medications are used for heartburn or acid reflux treatment which aids in alleviating symptoms like acid regurgitation and chest pain. Some medications work by decreasing the production of stomach acids while others neutralize it. Here are the different types of heartburn medications and how they work:


Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs): These decrease acid production like omeprazole.

Histamine-2 Receptor Blockers (H2 blockers): They block histamine receptors, reducing acid production like ranitidine.

Antacids: Commonly used over the counter, antacids, calcium carbonate and magnesium hydroxide can neutralize gastric acid for fast relief.

Though effective, these remedies may also cause side effects. Long-term use of PPIs may elevate the chances of developing renal diseases or infections, while H2 blockers might lead to headaches as well as digestive problems. Taking too many antacids or taking them for too long can disrupt your body’s balance of electrolytes. [FA1][LJ2]Most recent studies show that there is a possible link between dementia and the continued use of PPIs, but is there enough evidence to support this claim?


Learn more about acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

Exploring possible connections with dementia and heartburn medications

According to recent research, there may be an association between antacids for heartburn and the risk of dementia, particularly PPIs. The research concludes that continuous use of PPIs could influence certain brain chemicals, which might cause cognitive impairment.


According to one 2023 study, that used 5,000 participants, those who used PPIs for 4.4 cumulative years were at a 33% higher risk of developing dementia. However, these studies have limitations and correlation does not imply causation.


The fact is that more research needs to be done to uncover if there is a definite connection between heartburn medications and the risk for dementia. If you are taking heartburn medications and are worried about the risk of dementia it is important to speak with your doctor.


Find a Gastroenterologist near you.  


Together with your doctor, you can determine the benefits and risks of taking heartburn medications while considering your unique circumstances. For example, is your heartburn unbearable and limiting your quality of life or ability to eat or sleep? Do you have other risk factors for dementia?


Related Content: What are risk factors for dementia?


Strategies for managing heartburn symptoms

If you are trying to manage heartburn and avoid using medications, considering taking these measures:


Changes in lifestyle:

  • Managing your weight will help prevent frequent heartburn episodes.
  • Eat smaller meals to avoid heartburn symptoms like burning in your chest. 
  • Stay away from acidic or spicy foods that often trigger heartburn symptoms.
  • Do not eat before going to sleep and raise your head when sleeping to prevent acid reflux. 
  • Reduce fatty and fried or processed foods from your diet as these are common triggers for heartburn.


Related content: How to tell the difference between acid reflux and GERD


Maintain healthy brain function:

You should prioritize keeping your brain healthy by eating a diet that includes whole foods such as fruits, vegetables and good omega-3 fatty acids. Getting plenty of sleep and staying physically active also helps maintain healthy brain function. 


Related Content: Heartburn trouble? Here are the worst and best foods for acid reflux.


The bottom line: Dementia is not a specific disease but is rather a general term for the impaired ability to remember, think or make decisions that interferes with doing everyday activities. Some studies have shown that there may be a link between the continuous use of PPIs which could influence certain brain chemicals that could cause you to experience cognitive impairment. However, limitations in studies call for more research to be done to determine if there is a definite link.


If you use suffer from frequent heartburn and want to avoid using medications, try implementing lifestyle changes such as losing weight, eating smaller meals or avoiding spicy or acidic foods to reduce your need to take the drugs. Above all, you should maintain healthy brain function through a proper diet, getting plenty of sleep and keeping physically active. If you are still unsure about using PPIs or any heartburn medication, speak with your doctor.


Related Content: Can heartburn symptoms be a sign of esophageal cancer?