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H2 blockers (also sometimes referred to as acid reducers or
H2 receptor antagonists) are available in nonprescription and prescription
forms. Prescription forms are stronger than the nonprescription forms.
H2 blockers are usually taken by mouth, although some can also be given
as an injection. Two doses (morning and evening) are generally recommended to
control both daytime and nighttime symptoms. Doctors sometimes recommend a
single dose, taken at bedtime, for people who have difficulty remembering to
take their medicines.
How It Works
H2 blockers reduce the production of
stomach acid. This makes the
stomach juices less acidic so that any stomach juice
that gets into the esophagus is less irritating. This relieves symptoms and
allows the esophagus to heal.
Why It Is Used
H2 blockers are used to treat the
gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). They may be
prescribed for your symptoms without any diagnostic testing if your symptoms
point to GERD.
- H2 blockers may be used together with
- Nonprescription H2 blockers may be used for up to 2 weeks for
short-term symptom relief. But if you have been using nonprescription medicines
to treat your symptoms for longer than 2 weeks, talk to your doctor. If you
have GERD, the stomach acid could be causing damage to your esophagus. Your
doctor can help you find the right treatment.
blockers may be used on a long-term basis to relieve persistent GERD
How Well It Works
All of the H2 blockers in this class
are about equally effective.
H2 blockers heal the damage done to the esophagus by GERD (esophagitis) in about 5 out of 10 people.1
H2 blockers also work to help symptoms of GERD. But the number of people who take H2 blockers and who have no GERD symptoms is usually less than 5 out of 10 people. That means that of the people taking H2 blockers, more than 5 out of 10 still have some GERD symptoms.2
H2 blockers have been in use since the
late 1960s. H2 blockers are well studied and are considered very safe.
Minimal side effects occur with use of H2 blockers. Side effects may
See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug
Reference is not available in all systems.)
What To Think About
Depending on how bad your
symptoms are, medicines may need to be taken every day or only now and then when
GERD symptoms occur. Long-term-often lifelong-drug treatment is usually needed
for GERD symptoms that are more severe, because symptoms tend to return when
drug treatment is stopped.
Treatment of inflammation in
the esophagus (esophagitis) with H2 blockers usually lasts 8 to 12 weeks. If H2
blockers do not help relieve the symptoms, the doctor may recommend using a
proton pump inhibitor (acid blocker) instead.
changes and antacids are usually tried first to treat pregnant women who have
GERD. If you are pregnant and think you need something stronger, ranitidine and
cimetidine are the H2 blockers that have been studied the most. They seem to be
safe during pregnancy. It is always a good idea to talk to your doctor about
what medicines are safe to use during pregnancy.
Complete the new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.
Moayyedi P, et al. (2007). Medical treatments in the short term management of reflux oesophagitis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (2).
Kahrilas, PJ (2008). Gastroesophageal reflux disease. New England Journal of Medicine, 359(16): 1700-1707.