The Secrets of Managing GERD and Heartburn
Is it time to get serious about your GERD?
GERD Treatments: Medications continued...
“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
- 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.
“If you’re suffering with heartburn after
drinking or eating a big spicy meal, a proton pump inhibitor is not going to
help,” Cheskin says. “But an antacid will.” Just as antacids offer heartburn
relief to people without GERD, they can help GERD sufferers who have occasional
- Prokinetics. These prescription drugs -- like Reglan and
Urecholine-- help speed up the emptying of the stomach. While they’re
often mentioned alongside other GERD treatments, experts say that they’re
rarely helpful. They might be of benefit to people who have GERD on top of
another condition that’s slowing down their digestion. At the same time,
prokinetics can have serious side effects.
Many potent drugs that were once only
available by prescription -- like H2 blockers and the PPI Prilosec -- are now
available over the counter. Experts say it’s fine for a person with occasional
heartburn to use them, provided he or she follows the directions. Generally,
they should never be used for more than two weeks.
GERD Treatments: Self-Care Tips
While drugs are often the main GERD treatment, there’s a lot you can do on
your own. Here are some lifestyle tips for heartburn relief.
- Avoid trigger foods. Changing your diet can yield big benefits.
Classic GERD triggers include chocolate, coffee, alcohol, peppermint, citrus
juices, and tomatoes. The exact food triggers vary from person to person.