Over-the-counter (OTC) medications are non-prescription drugs that can be purchased without a doctor’s prescription. There are three varieties of OTC medications that are used to treat heartburn and acid reflux.
Antacids work by neutralizing stomach acid, which reduces its effects. Antacids are available in various brands, including chewable tablets, dissolving tablets, and liquids. They can provide quick and short-term relief.
H2 blockers decrease the amount of acid produced by the stomach. Although they don’t provide immediate relief like antacids, their effects last longer. H2 blockers usually take effect within an hour. An example of an OTC H2 blocker is famotidine (brand name: Pepcid).
Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) lower the body’s acid production. They are effective for heartburn that is not relieved by antacids or H2 blockers. Relief may take longer to appear with PPIs, but it lasts longer. Most PPI forms take a few days to start working. PPIs are especially useful for individuals with chronic heartburn (more than twice a week). Examples of OTC PPIs include omeprazole (brand name: Prilosec) and lansoprazole (brand name: Prevacid 24HR).
Tips for Improved Health Consult your family doctor to find out which medication is appropriate for you. They can inform you about the benefits and drawbacks. Antacids and acid reducers have few side effects, and any that do occur are usually minor and resolve on their own. These side effects may include headaches, nausea, constipation, or diarrhea.
If you have kidney disease, consult your doctor before taking antacids. Unless your doctor advises it, you should avoid antacids containing calcium carbonate or aluminum hydroxide and magnesium carbonate.
If you are elderly or have an immune system issue, talk to your doctor before taking a proton pump inhibitor. PPIs can raise your risk of pneumonia. If you are a postmenopausal woman, PPIs may reduce calcium absorption and raise your risk of osteoporosis. PPIs may also increase the risk of recurrence for people who have previously been treated for Clostridium difficile (C. diff.) infection.
If you are over the age of 55 and require long-term PPI treatment, your doctor may refer you for an EGD (esophagogastroduodenoscopy). This procedure examines the lining of the esophagus, stomach, and upper small intestine. If you have significant reflux, your doctor may also test you for a bacteria called H. pylori before prescribing PPIs.
Things to Keep in Mind Do not use more than one antacid or acid reducer at a time unless your doctor approves. Keep all medications in a cool, dry location that is inaccessible to children. Storing medicines in bathrooms, which are frequently hot and humid, is not recommended since it can reduce their effectiveness before they expire.
When to Consult a Doctor Inform your doctor how the OTC medications are working for you. If your symptoms do not improve or worsen, the doctor may suggest a prescription medication. Long-term use of PPIs should be avoided whenever possible because they can increase the risk of certain health problems, such as osteoporosis, kidney disease, and dementia.
If you experience any of the following symptoms, inform your doctor immediately. They may indicate a more severe condition.
Bloody or black stools Bloody vomit Heartburn that does not improve after two weeks of treatment with OTC medications Difficulty swallowing or pain while swallowing Unintentional weight loss If you have chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, and pain in your arms, consult the medical practitioner.