What types of OTC products treat heartburn?
Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines are medicines you can buy without a doctor’s prescription. There are 3 types of OTC medicines that treat heartburn:
Antacids reduce the effect of (neutralize) the acid in your stomach. They can provide fast, short-term relief. Many OTC medicines combine different antacids.
H2 blockers reduce the amount of acid your stomach makes. While they don’t relieve symptoms right away, H2 blockers relieve symptoms for a longer period of time than antacids. They usually start to work within an hour. Examples of H2 blockers available over the counter are ranitidine (brand name: Zantac) or famotidine (brand name: Pepcid).
Proton pump inhibitors greatly reduce your body’s production of acid. They work well for heartburn that isn’t resolved by antacids or H2 blockers. It may take a little longer for a proton pump inhibitor to help your symptoms than an H2 blocker, but relief will last longer. These medicines are most helpful for people who have heartburn often — more than 2 days a week. Omeprazole (brand name: Prilosec) and lansoprazole (brand name: Prevacid 24HR) are examples of OTC proton pump inhibitors.
To find out which medicine is right for you, talk to your family doctor.
How do antacids and acid reducers work?
Antacids work by neutralizing the acid produced by your stomach.
H2 blockers and proton pump inhibitors work by decreasing the amount of acid your stomach makes.
What are some common side effects of heartburn medicines?
Antacids and acid reducers usually cause only minor side effects that go away on their own. These may include headaches, nausea, constipation or diarrhea.
Who shouldn’t take OTC antacids and acid reducers?
If you have kidney disease, you shouldn’t use antacids containing calcium carbonate or aluminum hydroxide and magnesium carbonate without your doctor’s recommendation.
Talk to your doctor before taking a proton pump inhibitor if:
- You are a postmenopausal woman. Proton pump inhibitors may increase your risk for bone fractures.
- You have been treated for a Clostridium difficile infection in the past. Proton pump inhibitors may increase the risk that your infection will return.
- You are elderly or have immune system problems. Proton pump inhibitors may increase your risk for pneumonia.
Can OTC antacids or acid reducers cause problems with any other medicines I take?
Don’t use more than 1 antacid or acid reducer at a time, unless your doctor recommends it.
When should I call my doctor?
If you have chest pain that is severe or occurs with shortness of breath, dizziness or pain in your arms, you may be having a heart attack. Call 911 or go to the emergency room immediately.
You should ask your family doctor before taking an antacid if you also have any of the following symptoms:
- Bloody or black stools
- Bloody vomit
- Heartburn that has not improved after 2 weeks of treatment with OTC medicines
- Trouble swallowing or pain when you swallow
- Unintended weight loss
Funding and support for this material have been provided by the Consumer Healthcare Products Association.
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff