The Basics of Heartburn and GERD
How Is Heartburn Treated?
“Over the counter” or OTC medicines are ones you don’t need a prescription for. For heartburn, OTC medicines include:
Antacids. Antacids neutralize extra stomach acid to relieve heartburn, sour stomach, acid indigestion, and stomach upset. Calcium carbonate (Rolaids, Tums) and magnesium hydroxide (Maalox, Mylanta) can provide relief. Take them exactly how your doctor tells you to, or follow the directions on the label. If you aren’t sure what to do, ask your doctor or a pharmacist.
If you take antacid tablets, chew them well before you swallow them. Doing so will mean faster relief. If you accidentally take too much or use them too often, you can have side effects. They can include constipation, diarrhea, change in the color of bowel movements, and stomach cramps.
Acid Blockers. These medicines relieve heartburn, acid indigestion, and sour stomach. They cut down on how much acid your stomach makes. Follow the directions on the package, or follow your doctor’s instructions. When in doubt, ask your doctor or a pharmacist. Some of the OTC heartburn drugs are also available by prescription. Check with your insurance company. The prescription may cost less than the over-the-counter.
Side effects can include mild headache, dizziness, and diarrhea. These are usually temporary and will likely go away on their own.
Examples of acid blockers include:
- Esomeprazole (Nexium)
- Famotidine (Pepcid AC)
- Lansoprazole (Prevacid)
- Nizatidine (Axid)
- Omeprazole (Prilosec)
- Pantoprazole (Protonix)
- Ranitidine (Zantac)
When Should I See My Doctor?
Tell your doctor right away if you have confusion, chest tightness, bleeding, sore throat, fever, irregular heartbeat, weakness, or unusual fatigue.
Get immediate medical attention if you have any chest pain, pressure, or burning. These can also be signs of a heart attack.
Also get medical help right away if you are vomiting blood or what looks like dark coffee grounds. Seek immediate help if your stools are black, bloody, or a maroon color.
If your heartburn is severe and over-the-counter medicines don’t help, or if you have taken them for more than two weeks, call your doctor. Also see your doctor if you are losing weight without trying or having trouble swallowing. Your doctor can check to see what is causing the problem and what the best solution will be for you.