No Matter Who You Are, There’s a Safe and Effective Treatment for Your Heartburn
There are different types of heartburn, from the occasional bout after a meal, to the everyday discomfort that you just can’t seem to kick. No matter how you experience it, heartburn is painful and it’s personal. But for all the different ways you experience heartburn, there are different ways to treat it. Different medicines work differently. From lifestyle changes, to choosing an over-the-counter medication or exploring prescription options, you can find which solution is right for you. Keep reading for facts about heartburn and options to treat it.
Heartburn is an uncomfortable, painful, or burning feeling in your chest or throat. It happens when stomach acid backs up into the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach, known as your esophagus. Heartburn can also be referred to as acid reflux, or in more severe cases, it is a symptom of a diagnosed condition called GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease).
More than 1 in 4 adults experience heartburn at least once per week. In fact, frequent heartburn—occurring two or more days per week—is one of the most common reasons people visit their healthcare provider. It is also one of the most common conditions discussed with pharmacists.
It’s important not to ignore your symptoms; instead, discuss them with your healthcare provider. Even a small amount of stomach acid can cause significant pain or discomfort. If left untreated, the stomach acid that causes heartburn can even damage your esophagus and teeth.
When considering heartburn treatments, there are many options to help you lead a healthy digestive lifestyle. It’s important to keep in mind that the right treatment for you depends on the frequency and cause of your heartburn. A healthcare provider or pharmacist can help determine which of the following common option(s) are right for you.
There are several lifestyle changes you can make to help reduce or avoid the symptoms of heartburn.
- Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight increases the pressure on the stomach, increasing the chance of acid reflux into the esophagus.
- Food control: Eat smaller meals and avoid foods that trigger heartburn. These include alcohol, coffee, citrus juice, tomato products, spicy foods, fatty and fried foods, chocolate. Everyone reacts differently to food. It may be helpful to keep a food journal to keep track of which foods trigger your heartburn, so you can avoid them.
- Stay upright: Elevate the head of your bed about 8 inches, avoid lying on your right side, and wait about 2-3 hours after a meal before lying down.
- Quit smoking: Smoking interferes with the normal functioning of the lower part of the esophagus.
- Practice relaxation techniques: Stress and even lack of sleep can increase the amount of acid your stomach makes.
Over-the-Counter (OTC) Antacids
- Available over the counter, some common antacids are Maalox®, Rolaids®, Tums®, Mylanta®, Gaviscon®, and Alka-Seltzer®. Antacids usually come as a liquid, chewable gummy or tablet, or a tablet that you dissolve in water to drink. OTC antacids provide quick heartburn relief because they work by neutralizing or weakening the stomach acid. Typically, you can take one dose every four hours or as symptoms occur. It is important to read the directions on each product because dosing directions for liquids, chewable tablets, and dissolvable tablets differ. It is not advised to take antacids for symptoms that continue for more than two weeks. While antacids are quick and convenient, they don’t prevent future episodes of heartburn.
- Active ingredients in OTC antacids include:
OTC H2 Blockers
- These medications are available over the counter under brand names such as Zantac®, Pepcid®, Tagamet®, Axid®, and Calmicid® AC.
- H2 blockers are named after the receptor they block, the H2 receptor. Blocking the H2 receptor in the stomach reduces the amount of acid your stomach makes. Symptom relief from H2 blockers tends to last longer than antacids, but it also takes longer for them to start working. One H2 blocker tablet can be taken before a meal to prevent heartburn or after a meal to relieve heartburn. Typically, you should not take more than two tablets in a 24-hour period.
- When taking repeated doses of H2 blockers, some people may become tolerant to the medication and not experience symptom relief. If this occurs, talk to your healthcare provider.
- Active ingredients in OTC H2 blockers include:
OTC Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs)
- PPIs are available over the counter under brand names such as Nexium® 24HR, Prevacid®24HR, Prilosec OTC®, and Zegerid OTC®.
- OTC PPIs are used to treat frequent heartburn (occurs two or more days a week). They should be taken once a day (in the morning before a meal) for 14 days, up to three times per year. OTC PPIs take one to four days to work.
- When taken as directed, OTC PPIs block the production of stomach acid at its source.
- Active ingredients in OTC PPIs include: