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
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.