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Heartburn/GERD Health Center

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Treatment Tips for Severe, Chronic Heartburn

If you have chronic heartburn or acid reflux, try these heartburn treatments from the experts.

Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs) for Heartburn and GERD

Drugs called proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs, shut down tiny proton pumps in the stomach that produce acid, lowering acid levels dramatically. They're often used when histamine blockers don't provide enough relief or when you have erosions in the esophagus or other complications from GERD. One proton pump inhibitor, Prilosec, is available over the counter. Others, such as Aciphex, Nexium, Prevacid, Protonix, and stronger Prilosec require a doctor's prescription. Another PPI product consists of a combination of omeprazole and sodium bicarbonate (Zegerid). PPIs (except for Zegarid) are best taken an hour before meals.

There was some initial debate about whether PPIs were safe to take for long periods of time, O'Brien says. "There were concerns of things that might happen if you're constantly suppressing stomach acid," she says, "but studies show that it seems to be safe to use for an indefinite time."

Other Heartburn Treatment

Reglan is another prescription drug that works to stop acid reflux by speeding up how quickly your stomach empties. Reglan strengthens the digestive contractions that move food through your esophagus. Faster digestion means less heartburn.

Gaviscon, an over-the-counter heartburn treatment, works as both an antacid and a foam barrier where your esophagus empties into the top of your stomach. You swallow the tablet, the antacid neutralizes excess stomach acid, and the foaming agent creates a physical barrier that helps prevent acid reflux.

Endoscopy and GERD

With chronic heartburn, your doctor may refer you to a specialist, called a gastroenterologist, for a procedure called an endoscopy. This allows the specialist to look inside your esophagus to see whether acid reflux has eroded the delicate lining of your esophagus or caused other damage. Long-term GERD, especially if left untreated, can increase your risk of cancer of the esophagus and other permanent damage.

Call Your Doctor or Pharmacist If:

The AGA advises that you see your doctor or pharmacist if:

  • You have heartburn three or more times a week.
  • You've had heartburn for four or more years.
  • You've been using OTC antacids for a prolonged time.
  • You're using more than the regular dosage of any heartburn treatment.
  • Your symptoms aren't relieved, no matter what you do.

Experts also advise that when it comes to chest pain, better safe than sorry. Call your doctor or your hospital ER if you have chest pain. While the burning, irritated feeling of heartburn is uncomfortable, chest pain may also be a sign of a heart attack.

No matter what your symptoms are, you don't have to go it alone. If you have chronic heartburn or GERD, spend some time talking your doctor or your local pharmacist. By working with your health care team, relief is on the way.

Reviewed on April 13, 2009

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