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Medications Used for Treating Heartburn

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Updated April 09, 2014

When it comes to treating heartburn, the first treatment option your doctor will most likely discuss with you is a "no medication" approach. This will usually involve lifestyle modifications and dietary changes. Other people have opted for home remedies to treat their heartburn.

If these methods either don't work or aren't effective enough, however, you can discuss with your doctor the various types of medications you can use.

The available medications, discussed in further detail below, include antacids, H2 blockers, and proton pump inhibitors.

What type of medication you use will depend in part on how severe your symptoms are. While more and more of these medications are available over-the-counter (OTC), you should always discuss their use with your doctor before you start taking them. While side effect are not common, and the ones that do occur will often disappear on their own, it is important that you are aware of them and discuss with your doctor the pros and cons of any new medication.

Antacids

You have probably seen the commercials on television that show the effectiveness of antacids. And it is true that when used properly, antacids are useful in relieving occasional heartburn and indigestion. The active ingredient in antacids neutralizes stomach acid, which is what is causing the pain.

Again, if you do take an antacid, it should be used only for occasional relief of mild heartburn or indigestion. If you're taking antacids for longer than two weeks, then the heartburn may be caused by a more serious medical problem. It is important that you consult your doctor for a further evaluation. You should see your doctor even sooner if you're experiencing any symptoms severe enough to interfere with your lifestyle.

Side effects from the use of antacids are very rare when this medication is taken as directed. Side effects are more likely to occur if antacids are taken for longer than recommended, or a higher dosage is taken. However, because side effects may occur, it's important to know what they are and when you should discuss your symptoms with your doctor.

Side effects that usually do not require medical attention unless they continue or become bothersome are:

  • Constipation
  • Stomach gas

Side effects that you should report to your doctor immediately are:

  • A skin rash, itching or hives, swelling of the face, lips, or tongue (indicates an allergic reaction)
  • Confusion
  • Headache
  • Irritability
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Unexplained weakness or tiredness

Types of antacids:

H2 Blockers

H2 blockers, also called H2-receptor antagonists, are medicines that reduce the amount of acid the stomach produces by blocking one important producer of acid: histamine2. Cell in the stomach lining, called parietal cells, produce acid. One of the ways these cells are stimulated to produce acid is with histamine. H2 Blockers reduce acid production by blocking signals from the histamine that tell the stomach to make acid.

While there is a possibility of side effects when taking H2 blockers, most people tolerate H2 blockers well when they are taken as directed. Other medical conditions or medications could increase the odds of experiencing side effects. Also, if any side effects do occur, they most often require little or no treatment.

Side effects that usually do not require medical attention (report to your doctor or health care professional if they continue or are bothersome):

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Headache

Side effects that you should report to your doctor or health care professional as soon as possible:

  • Allergic reactions like a skin rash, itching or hives, swelling of the face, lips, or tongue
  • Agitation, nervousness, depression, hallucinations
  • Breast swelling, tenderness
  • Redness, blistering, or peeling of the skin, including inside the mouth
  • Dark urine
  • Yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes

Types of H2 blockers include:

Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs)

The proton pump inhibitors work by completely blocking the production of stomach acid. They do this by inhibiting (shutting down) a system in the stomach known as the proton pump.

The proton pump is a molecule in certain cells of the stomach. It "pumps" acid into the stomach. It takes a non-acidic potassium ion out of the stomach and replaces it with an acidic hydrogen ion. This hydrogen ion is what makes things acidic. By putting more hydrogen ions into your stomach, the pump makes the contents of your stomach more acidic. But by stopping the action of the pump, acid secretion into the stomach is stopped.

Doctors prescribe PPIs to treat people with GERD, ulcers in the stomach or intestine, or other digestive disorders that may cause excess stomach acid.

PPIs as a class of medicine are very safe, and only rarely cause severe side effects. However, because they can reduce your stomach acid, they can increase the chances of getting certain infections, and can decrease absorption of certain medicines. This is why it is important you discuss these medications with your doctor before taking them. Nevertheless, for severe side effects, and for symptoms of hives/breathing/difficulty swallowing, you should be sure to contact your health care provider immediately.

If you have side effects that persist or become bothersome, you should see your doctor. These possible side effects are:

  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Upset stomach
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Cough
  • Cold symptoms
  • Dizziness
  • Mild rash

If you experience the following symptoms, call your doctor immediately:

  • Severe skin rash with swelling or peeling
  • Hives
  • Swelling of the face, mouth, lips, or tongue
  • Swelling of hands, feet, or ankles
  • Severe diarrhea
  • Hoarseness

Types of proton pump inhibitors include:

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  5. Heartburn - Common Medications and Treatments

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