Questions to Ask Your Pharmacist About Heartburn Relief
One in 10 Americans has heartburn or acid reflux at least once a week, according to the American Gastroenterological Association. Whether you're one of the lucky few who generally has an iron stomach -- or you need heartburn relief nearly every day -- rest assured: You can soothe the burn.
Start by getting to know your local pharmacist. Uniquely trained in drug interactions and side effects, pharmacists can help you look at the medications you're already taking, uncover any potential side effects and drug interactions, and offer safe solutions for heartburn relief. Write out your full list of medications, including all prescription and over-the-counter drugs, any herbal or other natural remedies, and all vitamin and mineral supplements. Take it with you to the pharmacist and go over it together.
A physical exam for hiatal hernia is similar to that for heartburn, with two additions: X-rays may be ordered to show the hernia, and if anemia is a concern, a blood sample may be taken to check your red blood cell count.
A hiatal hernia can be diagnosed with a specialized X-ray study that allows visualization of the esophagus and stomach (barium swallow) or with endoscopy (a test that allows the doctor to view the hernia directly). An esophageal manometry test (pressure study) may also be performed...
To start you on your way, here are seven key questions to ask your pharmacist about heartburn relief. You may want to print out this list and take it with you to the pharmacy.
1. Could medications I'm taking be causing my heartburn?
Heartburn is a common side effect of many medications, from aspirin to osteoporosis drugs to steroids.
2. Can I just wait and hope my heartburn goes away?
Simple heartburn that passes relatively quickly isn't dangerous -- certainly not life-threatening. But chronic, severe heartburn, especially with acid reflux, can eventually damage your esophagus if left untreated.
3. What's a safe, simple heartburn treatment?
Many doctors and pharmacists suggest over-the-counter antacids for occasional heartburn. If heartburn symptoms persist, your doctor may suggest proton pump inhibitors, such as Aciphex, Dexilant, Nexium, Prevacid, Prilosec, Protonix or Zegerid to reduce the stomach's production of acid, or Reglan to make the stomach empty itself faster. Your pharmacist or your doctor can explain how each drug works, and what to expect.
4. Are there lifestyle changes that bring heartburn relief?
One safe, first step is to cut out any foods and drinks that trigger your heartburn symptoms. Coffee, chocolate, carbonated drinks, spicy foods, tomatoes, citrus fruits, dairy, and alcohol are common heartburn triggers. With heartburn, eating smaller meals and avoiding food for two to three hours before bedtime can ease symptoms. Cutting out smoking and losing weight if you're overweight can also relieve heartburn.
5. How long does it take for heartburn treatment to work?
The answer depends on whether you're about to try an over-the-counter antacid or a long-term prescription drug. Each heartburn treatment works differently, but in general:
Antacids like Tums work instantly, but wear off quickly. Antacids work best if taken 30 to 60 minutes before eating.
Histamine blockers take effect in about an hour, but must be taken twice a day for heartburn prevention.
Proton pump inhibitors are the most powerful drugs, but may not provide immediate relief because they act slowly. These drugs must be taken every day to be effective.