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.
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?
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. You should talk to your doctor about your symptoms if they are becoming frequent.
3. What's a safe, simple heartburn treatment?
Many doctors and pharmacists suggest over-the-counter antacids for occasional heartburn. Histamine blockers, or H2-Blockers, such as cimetidine (Tagamet) and Famotidine (Pepcid) can also be found over-the-counter to help relieve symptoms of acid reflux. These are good acid reducers to start with if you haven’t been on any medications.
If heartburn symptoms persist, your doctor may suggest proton pump inhibitors, such as Dexlansoprazole (Dexilant), Esomeprazole (Nexium), Lansoprazole (Prevacid),Omeprazole (Prilosec, Zegerid), Pantoprazole (Protonix), or Rabeprazole (Aciphex), to reduce the stomach's production of acid, or Metoclopramide (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, fatty and spicy foods, tomatoes, citrus fruits, some 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. You may want to keep a heartburn diary to help determine what foods trigger the problem. 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 Rolaids or 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.
6. Could my heartburn treatment interfere with other medications I'm taking?
Some medications need at least a little bit of stomach acidity to break down and be absorbed by your body. Ask your pharmacist about the specific drugs you're taking, so you can try a heartburn treatment that won't interfere with absorption of these other drugs.
7. When should I see my doctor?
Your pharmacist can answer questions about medications, side effects, and drug interactions, but can't prescribe new medications for heartburn. So see your doctor if you think you should change your medication type, dose, or brand. Never stop taking a medication without first checking with your doctor, because suddenly stopping some drugs can cause medical complications.
You should schedule a visit with your doctor if you are experiencing symptoms more than twice/week, your heartburn is increasing in frequency or severity or if it persists even after taking non-prescription or prescription medications.