Home treatment, such as lifestyle changes and nonprescription medicines, may be all that is needed to treat mild to moderate heartburn. But if your symptoms do not get better with home treatment, or if your symptoms occur frequently, see your doctor to find out whether other medical conditions may be causing your symptoms.
Keep a record of your heartburn symptoms before and after making lifestyle changes or using nonprescription medicines so you can discuss any improvement with your doctor. See an example of a heartburn symptom record(What is a PDF document?).
Medicines to treat heartburn
If you are pregnant and have heartburn symptoms, be sure to talk to your doctor before you take any heartburn medicines. Some medicines may not be safe to take while you are pregnant. For more information, see the topic Pregnancy-Related Problems.
Many people take nonprescription antacids for mild or occasional heartburn. If you use antacids more than just once in a while, talk with your doctor.
- Antacids such as Tums, Mylanta, or Maalox neutralize some of the stomach acid for 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on whether the stomach is full or empty. Liquid or dissolving antacids usually work faster than tablet forms.
- Some antacids, such as Gaviscon, have a foaming agent (alginate) that acts as a barrier between stomach acid and the esophagus.
- Antacids such as Pepto-Bismol coat the esophagus and act as a barrier to reflux acid. Pepto-Bismol should not be used for more than 3 weeks and you should not take it if you can't take aspirin. It may make your tongue or stools black. The black color is usually not serious. Brushing your teeth and tongue after taking Pepto-Bismol may keep your tongue from turning black. Ask your doctor if your child younger than age 12 should take this medicine.
Antacids work faster than acid reducers (H2 blockers), but their effect does not last more than 1 to 2 hours. H2 blockers can provide relief for up to 12 hours.
If you have any health risks, talk with your doctor before you start taking an antacid. If you have kidney disease, it is especially important to discuss antacid use with your doctor. Regular use of antacids that contain magnesium or aluminum can cause a dangerous buildup of magnesium or aluminum in people who have kidney disease.
Stomach acid reducers
Acid reducers, also called histamine receptor (or H2) blockers, decrease the amount of acid that the stomach makes, which may reduce irritation to the stomach lining and decrease heartburn. Some examples of nonprescription acid reducers are Pepcid AC, Tagamet HB, Zantac 75, and Axid AR. Talk with your doctor if you take an H2 blocker for more than 2 weeks.
Proton pump inhibitors
Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), such as omeprazole (for example, Prilosec), reduce stomach acid and effectively treat severe heartburn symptoms. These acid-reducing medicines are used when your heartburn has not gotten better with other home treatment measures, antacids, or H2 blockers. You may need to use a PPI for up to 5 days before you have relief of your heartburn, but they are safe to use for long-term management. They also are safe to use if you have kidney or liver problems. PPIs are available without a prescription.
Acid reducers can sometimes change the way other medicines work. If you are taking prescription medicines, be sure to talk with your doctor before you take a nonprescription acid reducer.
Symptoms to watch for during home treatment
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:
- Heartburn is not relieved by home treatment and medicine.
- Swallowing problems are not improving.
- You continue to lose weight for no reason.
- Your symptoms become more severe or frequent.