Antacids and Acid Reducers: OTC Relief for Heartburn and Acid Reflux

Antacids and Acid Reducers: OTC Relief for Heartburn and Acid Reflux Family Doctor Logo

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.

What are some common side effects of OTC antacids and acid reducers?

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 an antacid containing calcium carbonate or aluminum hydroxide and magnesium carbonate unless your doctor recommends it.

Talk to your doctor before taking a proton pump inhibitor if:

You are elderly or have immune system problems. Proton pump inhibitors may increase your risk for pneumonia.

  • You are a postmenopausal woman. Proton pump inhibitors reduce calcium absorption from foods and supplements and may increase your risk for osteoporosis.
  • You have been treated for a Clostridium difficile infection in the past. Proton pump inhibitors may increase the risk that your infection will return.

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.

How can I safely store OTC antacids and acid reducers?

Store all medicines up and away, out of reach and sight of young children. Keeping medicines in a cool, dry place will help prevent them from becoming less effective before their expiration dates. Do not store medicines in bathrooms or bathroom cabinets, which are often hot and humid.

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.

Talk to your family doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:

These may be signs of a more serious problem.

  • 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