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Over-the-Counter Heartburn Medicine: What You Should Know

Over-the-Counter Heartburn Medicine

If you have struggled with heartburn, you have probably tried a few home remedies to help alleviate your symptoms. But what if home remedies and lifestyle changes aren’t enough to relieve your heartburn? You may turn to over-the-counter medicine to find a little relief. Before buying an over-the-counter heartburn medicine, here’s what you should know before swinging by the drugstore.

What is Heartburn?

Heartburn is the burning sensation many people experience in the center of their chest when acid from their stomach travels back up into their esophagus and throat. It is often triggered by eating or drinking certain foods but can also be caused by certain medications and lifestyle choices.

Types of Over-the-Counter Heartburn Medications

Over-the-counter, or OTC, heartburn medications treat symptoms for short periods or occasionally. There are three classes of over-the-counter heartburn medications you can try if you are experiencing discomfort from heartburn.

1. Antacids: Antacids are medications used to relieve heartburn by neutralizing the acid in your stomach. Because they are alkaline (the opposite of acidic), they decrease the acidity level in the stomach. Antacids typically come in a liquid or chewable tablet and are good for occasional heartburn symptoms, as they usually start working within 10 minutes.

Common side effects of antacids include constipation, diarrhea, changes to the color of your stool, or stomach cramping. Examples of antacids are Tums, Maalox, and Mylanta.

2. Histamine-2 Antagonists (H2 Blockers): Histamine-2 antagonists are a class of medication used to reduce the production of stomach acid by blocking the action of histamine. Histamine is one of the many chemicals the stomach releases when eating, stimulating the stomach to secrete acid. This medication treats more frequent episodes of heartburn, typically heartburn that occurs more than two times per week. H2 blockers are usually taken 30 minutes before a meal or at bedtime, start working within one to three hours, and last for up to 12 hours.

Side effects of H2 blockers include headache, diarrhea, constipation, and dizziness. Examples include Pepcid, Zantac, and Tagament.

3. Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs): Proton pump inhibitors are a class of medications used to reduce the amount of acid your stomach can produce. PPIs work by inhibiting the stomach lining’s proton pump, which is responsible for stomach acid production. By blocking the proton pump, PPIs can effectively reduce the amount of acid the stomach produces, therefore reducing heartburn. PPIs do not provide heartburn relief immediately. These medications are intended to be taken 30 minutes before a meal and can take up to 4 days to fully work. They are designed to be used for no longer than 14 days unless directed to continue by a doctor. Long-term use of PPIs can lead to nutritional deficiencies, an increased risk of some types of cancer, and potentially heart disease.

Common side effects of PPIs include headache, stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, gas, constipation, or dizziness. Longer-term side effects of PPIs include an increased risk of osteoporosis, as they can reduce the body’s ability to absorb calcium. Examples of PPIs are Prilosec, Nexium, and Prevacid.

When to See A Doctor

Heartburn that occurs multiple times a week, is severe, or over-the-counter heartburn medications haven’t helped mean it’s time to see a doctor. Frequent or severe heartburn may mean you have a condition like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which is important to diagnose and manage with the help of a gastroenterologist. Over time, GERD can increase the risk of esophageal cancer.

Don’t continue to live with chronic heartburn – schedule an appointment today!


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