The findings of a new Swedish study suggest that side effects of Nexium, Prilosec, Prevacid and other similar heartburn medications may increase the risk of dementia among users. These drugs are called proton pump inhibitors and they are used by millions of Americans to treat and prevent symptoms of heartburn, acid reflux and other conditions caused by too much acid in the stomach. Proton pump inhibitors have previously been linked to an elevated risk of bone fractures and kidney damage, but this new study indicates that they may also increase a patient’s risk of developing dementia. If you or someone you love has suffered alleged side effects of Nexium, Prilosec or another popular pharmaceutical drug, contact an experienced drug injury attorney as soon as possible to discuss your legal options.
The class of drugs known as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) include some of the best-selling medications on the market, including Nexium, Prilosec and Prevacid. These drugs are available in both prescription form and over the counter, and they work by inhibiting certain cells in the stomach, thereby reducing the amount of acid produced by the stomach. Although PPIs are widely considered safe for the treatment of heartburn, acid reflux and other common conditions, concerns have emerged in recent years about the potential for the drugs to cause kidney problems among users. The makers of some of the most widely recognized heartburn drugs in the United States currently face more than 13,000 product liability lawsuits over side effects like kidney damage, chronic kidney disease and end-stage renal failure.
As if the risk of kidney damage wasn’t enough, Nexium and Prilosec users may also face an increased risk of bone fractures. In May 2010, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a safety announcement indicating that the agency would be updating the prescription and OTC labels for PPIs to include new safety information “about a possible increased risk of fractures of the hip, wrist, and spine with the use of these medications.” According to the FDA, consumers facing the greatest risk for bone fractures are those taking high doses of PPIs or taking them for one year or more. Now, in addition to kidney damage and a risk of severe bone fractures, Nexium and Prilosec users have to worry about their heartburn drug causing them to develop dementia.
The potential link between Nexium or Prilosec use and a significantly increased risk of dementia has been proposed by a number of studies in the past. In fact, German researchers warned in a study published in JAMA Neurology in April 2016 that long-term use of PPIs like Prilosec and Nexium could increase the risk of dementia by as much as 44%. However, this new study, conducted by researchers from Sweden’s Karolinska Institute and published in the medical journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia on May 8, is the first to identify a possible mechanism of action.
According to their report, the Swedish researchers discovered an unprecedented mode of action of PPIs that explains how the widely used medications may increase the risk of dementia in users. This has to do with the effects of the drugs on choline-acetyltransferase (ChAT), an enzyme responsible for the synthesis of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. The researchers found that PPIs act as “highly selective and reversible ChAT inhibitors” with unprecedented potencies. “Given that accumulating evidence points at cholinergic dysfunction as a driving force of major dementia disorders” the researchers wrote, “our findings mechanistically explain how prolonged use of PPIs may increase incidence of dementia.”
Consumers depend on drug manufacturers to provide adequate warnings about the potential side effects of their medications, so they, along with their healthcare providers, can make educated decisions about which drugs are safe for them to take and which aren’t. Unfortunately, when drug manufacturers fail in this duty, consumers are the ones who pay the price. Based on these new findings, the researchers recommend that PPIs like Nexium and Prilosec be prescribed for the “shortest period of time possible with special care in the elderly, and in patients suffering from dementia.” For those who took Nexium or Prilosec for heartburn or acid reflux and have since suffered from dementia, bone fractures or chronic kidney disease, financial compensation may be available in the form of a PPI injury lawsuit.