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America Asks About Heartburn & GERD

The Secrets of Managing GERD and Heartburn

Is it time to get serious about your GERD?
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GERD Treatments: Medications

Medications -- both prescription and over-the-counter -- are the most common treatment for GERD and heartburn relief. Here’s a rundown of your options.

  • Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). If you have GERD, the odds are you’ll be prescribed one of these. This class of drugs -- which includes Aciphex, Nexium, Prevacid, Prilosec, and Protonix -- is now the standard GERD treatment. Not only do they help block the production of acid in the stomach, they also protect the esophagus from damage and allow it to heal.

“The proton pump inhibitors are a terrific class of medications,” says Rao. “They’re very effective, and they appear to be quite safe.” They’re even helpful in diagnosing GERD, Rao says. If they work, you probably have GERD. If they don’t, you probably have something else.

Like any medication, they can have side effects. There’s some concern that they may cause a small increase in the occurrence of weakened bones in older people. While the benefits of well-controlled GERD generally outweigh this risk, you should discuss it with your doctor.

  • H2 blockers. These come as prescription and OTC medicines. They include drugs like Axid, Pepcid, Tagamet, and Zantac and were once the standard treatment for GERD. But they’re not used as often now. “They’re perfectly good medicines,” says J. Patrick Waring, MD, a gastroenterologist at Digestive Healthcare of Georgia in Atlanta and a board member at the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD.) “But H2 blockers just aren’t as powerful as the proton pump inhibitors.”

Some doctors still recommend them as GERD treatment, at least for mild cases. They’re also sometimes added to PPIs to help treat occasional breakthrough symptoms. Cheskin tells WebMD that H2 blockers may have one significant advantage. Because most are generic, they can be less expensive than PPIs.

  • Antacids. The old standbys from your grandparents’ medicine cabinet -- tablets like Tums and Rolaids and liquids like Maalox and Mylanta -- can still play a role in controlling GERD. These heartburn remedies aren’t suited for regular, long-term use. But their main advantage is that they work quickly, unlike more powerful GERD medications.

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