Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are a class of drugs used to help reduce the production of stomach acid in patients suffering from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and other medical conditions related to the digestive system. Several over-the-counter proton pump inhibitors are available in the United States and elsewhere for treatment of persistent acid reflux. While these drugs are chemically similar and present many of the same side effects, a patient may respond differently to the various types of PPIs. Some PPIs are combined with sodium bicarbonate to enhance absorption. The risk of harmful side effects means patients may want to discuss alternative treatments for acid reduction with a doctor or pharmacist before beginning to take PPIs.
In general, over-the-counter proton pump inhibitors are intended for use over a two-week period to help reduce acid and allow erosions in the esophagus to heal. Most PPIs are packaged and sold as a pack of 14 pills designed to be taken once a day. A doctor may recommend longer-term regimes for the treatment of more serious conditions, though those also may come in prescription form rather than over the counter.
These drugs can be expensive for patients needing long-term treatment and for those on a fixed budget. Buyers who are concerned about cost may wish to consider a generic version of one of the various medications, which can be cheaper than both prescription and branded forms of the drug. PPIs are fairly similar in terms of effectiveness and side effects, so there are few added drawbacks to using the generic versions.
When selecting a PPI, it is important to note the ingredients and dosages of the drug. Some PPIs contain fewer milligrams of active ingredients and may not be as effective for some patients. Patients may wish to switch to a different PPI if they experience negative side effects or have difficulty taking a larger pill.
In some over-the-counter proton pump inhibitors, the active ingredient is mixed with sodium bicarbonate. This helps keep acids in the stomach from breaking down the PPI before it has a chance to be absorbed by the body. While this can increase its effectiveness for some people, patients with high blood pressure or a sensitivity to salt may wish to avoid these products because of the sodium content.
While PPIs generally are considered to be a safe drug, they can have significant side effects, particularly for older patients and those using the drug for long periods of time. In particular, the risk of hip and other bone fractures may increase with PPI use. Patients who are concerned about potential side effects from the use of over-the-counter proton pump inhibitors should discuss the risks and benefits of this family of drugs with a healthcare professional.