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Treating Heartburn With Over-the-Counter Drugs

There are a variety of heartburn medicines available over the counter to relieve symptoms. If these fail to relieve your symptoms, talk to your doctor about other available heartburn treatment options. Your doctor may want to evaluate you for gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD.

Non-prescription medications used to treat heartburn include:

Recommended Related to Heartburn/GERD

Understanding Heartburn -- the Basics

Despite its name, heartburn has nothing to do with the heart. Some of the symptoms, however, are similar to those of a heart attack or heart disease. Heartburn is an irritation of the esophagus that is caused by stomach acid. This can create a burning discomfort in the upper abdomen or below the breast bone. With gravity's help, a muscular valve called the lower esophageal sphincter, or LES, keeps stomach acid in the stomach. The LES is located where the esophagus meets the stomach -- below the...

Read the Understanding Heartburn -- the Basics article > >

Antacids for Heartburn

Antacids neutralize stomach acid to help relieve heartburn, sour stomach, acid indigestion, and stomach upset. They are also occasionally recommended to help relieve the pain of ulcers. Some antacids also contain simethicone, an ingredient that helps eliminate excess gas. Some antacids contain ingredients that can cause diarrhea, such as magnesium, or constipation, such as aluminum.

Examples of antacids include:

You should take antacids exactly as directed by your doctor, or according to the package label. If you are using the tablets, chew them well before swallowing for faster relief.

Serious side effects can occur with an overdose or overuse of antacids. Side effects include constipation, diarrhea, changes in the color of bowel movements, and stomach cramps.

Acid Reducers for Heartburn

There are two types of drugs that work to reduce the production of acid in the stomach: histamine antagonists (H2 antagonists or H2 blockers) and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs).

Examples of H2 blockers available over the counter include:

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

The FDA has approved the proton pump inhibitors Prevacid 24HR, Prilosec OTC, Nexium 24HR, and Zegerid OTC for over-the-counter use to treat frequent heartburn (two or more times per week) for 14 days. All of these drugs are also available as prescriptions. Take these drugs according to the directions on the package or as advised by your doctor.

If these medications don't relieve your symptoms, or if your heartburn symptoms get worse or persist for longer then a couple of weeks, you should see your doctor.

Combination Antacid/Acid Reducer for Heartburn

There is only one drug of this type, Pepcid Complete. It combines the acid-neutralizing capability of an antacid and the acid-reducing actions of an acid-blocker drug.

So Which Works Best for Heartburn?

All of these over-the-counter medicines, to a varying degree, can be effective in relieving the heartburn symptoms of heartburn. People who have more severe heartburn symptoms that aren't relieved with these medications or who have been using these drugs for more than two weeks should contact their doctor. They may need prescription medicine.

 

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on June 28, 2013
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