Diseases & Conditions

Heartburn Treatment

How is heartburn treated?

Over-the-counter (OTC) antacids and acid blockers are the most common medicines used to relieve heartburn. Along with diet and lifestyle changes, they can help relieve the symptoms of occasional heartburn.

If your heartburn is not relieved with OTC antacids or acid blockers, talk to your doctor. You may have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or another condition which may need different treatment.

How do antacids work?

Antacids neutralize excess stomach acid to relieve heartburn, sour stomach, acid indigestion, and stomach upset. They can also be used to relieve the pain of stomach and duodenal ulcers. Some antacids contain simethicone, which reduces gas. Examples of antacids you can buy without a prescription:

  • Tums®
  • Rolaids®
  • Maalox®
  • Gaviscon®

Take antacids as directed by your doctor or by the directions on the package. For ulcers, take the medicine for as long as your doctor tells you. If you use tablets, chew them well before swallowing for faster relief.

Some antacids contain magnesium or sodium bicarbonate, which may have a laxative effect. Never take antacids if you have any symptoms of appendicitis or bowel inflammation. Side effects to antacids may include:

  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • White or pale bowel movements
  • Stomach cramps

Serious side effects can occur with an overdose or overuse of antacids.

How do acid blockers work?

Products like Pepcid AC® are called histamine H2 blockers, or acid blockers. Acid blockers reduce the production of stomach acid. They relieve heartburn, acid indigestion, and sour stomach. Take these drugs according to the directions on the package, or as your doctor tells you. Acid blockers you can buy without a prescription include:

  • Pepcid AC
  • Tagamet HB®
  • Zantac 75®
  • Axid AR®

Tell your doctor right away if you have these possible serious side effects after taking acid blockers:

  • Confusion
  • Chest tightness
  • Bleeding
  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Weakness or unusual fatigue

Temporary, less serious side effects include headache, dizziness, and diarrhea.

Should I take antacids and acid blockers together?

Your doctor may want you to take antacids when you start taking acid-blocking drugs. Antacids will control your symptoms until the acid blockers start to work. If your doctor prescribes an antacid, take it an hour before (or an hour after) you take an acid blocker.

Take your acid blocker medicine regularly for as long as directed by your doctor, even if you do not have any pain or your symptoms get better.

What are prescription medications for heartburn?

If OTC antacids and acid blockers do not relieve your heartburn, your doctor may give you a prescription for other medicines, such as:

  • Prescription acid blockers. In prescription form (usually higher doses), Zantac, Tagamet, Pepcid, and Axid can generally relieve heartburn and treat gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
  • Proton pump inhibitors. Other drugs that more effectively block acid production are called proton pump inhibitors. These include Aciphex®, Nexium®, Prevacid®, Prilosec®, and Protonix®.
  • Promotility agents. Drugs such as Reglan® speed up the digestive process. This decreases the amount of stomach acid that splashes back into the esophagus, or food pipe.

When should I contact my doctor?

You should contact your doctor if:

  • Your heartburn won't go away.
  • You are having difficulty swallowing.
  • Your heartburn is causing you to vomit.
  • You have been using antacids for more than two weeks and you still have heartburn.

Occasional heartburn is common and generally not serious. However, GERD (long-lasting and severe heartburn) may lead to esophagitis, an inflammation of the lining of the esophagus. Esophagitis happens when stomach acid repeatedly comes into contact with the lining of the esophagus. If the condition is severe, the person can develop ulcers, bleeding, and blood loss.

GERD may also lead to esophageal stricture, a narrowing of the esophagus which makes it hard to swallow. Barrett's esophagus and even cancer can occur with long-standing reflux and heartburn.

Your doctor may want to do an endoscopy to check for these or other conditions. An endoscopy is the examination of your digestive tract with a lighted flexible instrument.

References

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 5/22/2015…#9624