Over-the-counter medications can provide relief from occasional and frequent heartburn. These medicines include fast-acting products that eliminate heartburn immediately, and medications that offer long-lasting protection from heartburn when taken ahead of time. People who experience heartburn once in a while benefit from some of these medications, and those with persistent bouts of heartburn, including people with gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, also have a variety of medications from which to choose. Although OTC medications are effective for many people with GERD, those who still suffer heartburn symptoms should seek a doctor’s help for stronger medication.
Antacids work to provide fast relief for heartburn and mild acid reflux symptoms. Products are available in tablet and liquid form. Tablets should be chewed thoroughly before swallowing to bring the quickest relief, the Cleveland Clinic notes. The different brands use different combinations of calcium, magnesium or aluminum salts with hydroxide or bicarbonate ions, which neutralize stomach acid instantly when heartburn strikes. Many people like the idea of antacids providing calcium, which is an extra benefit, but too much calcium can lead to constipation. The aluminum salts may also cause constipation. Magnesium salts can result in diarrhea. Some products combine magnesium and aluminum to balance the action and reduce side effects.
H2 blockers such as cimetidine, ranitidine, famotidine and nizatidine work to block stomach acid production to provide longer relief than antacids. They can prevent heartburn when taken before a meal. People who know they may suffer from symptoms benefit from H2 blockers as a prevention medication. These medications are not meant to relieve heartburn immediately. GERD patients with mild symptoms benefit from H2 blockers. These medications improve symptoms of heartburn and also aid in the healing process of the esophagus, which can become damaged from mild to moderate irritation from heartburn, according to the American College of Gastroenterology. Some people use antacids in combination with H2 blockers. The antacids neutralize the stomach acid at first, and then the effects of H2 blockers take over to prevent stomach acid production.
Proton Pump Inhibitors
Proton pump inhibitors work more effectively than H2 blockers and help most people with GERD, the Cleveland Clinic explains. They control acid production to give damaged tissue in the esophagus enough time to heal, MayoClinic.com notes. They may eliminate symptoms in people with esophageal ulcers. Over-the-counter proton pump inhibitors include lansoprazole and omeprazole. Some GERD patients, however, may need prescription strength proton pump inhibitors to relieve symptoms.