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What are the Different Types of Heartburn Medications?

By Steve R.
Updated May 17, 2024
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Heartburn is a common affliction that actually has nothing to do with the heart. The condition occurs when stomach acid arises into the esophagus, resulting in chest pain. It is often triggered by things such as worrying, eating fatty or spicy foods, or drinking alcohol. However, there is treatment for this feeling of discomfort. Heartburn medications may include over-the-counter medications such as antacids, H2 blockers, and proton-pump inhibitors.

Antacids, which aim to counteract stomach acid, are one of the most common heartburn medications. Antacids may come in the form of pills, liquids, or foam. This over-the-counter medication typically consists of components such as magnesium, aluminum hydroxide, calcium carbonate, or sodium bicarbonate. Typically, antacids take effect quickly against mild symptoms of heartburn. The components in antacids cushion against built up acid in the stomach, which lowers the burning feeling inside of the esophagus. Usually, taking a dose up to three hours after food consumption will bring about relief.

A person with hypertension or someone who needs to watch his sodium intake should refrain from taking antacids because of the medication's high level of sodium. In addition, people who take prescription medicine should check with their doctor before taking antacids, as the over-the-counter medication can negatively interact with other drugs. Also, antacids may have certain side effects such as diarrhea, constipation, and calcium loss. Long-term use of antacids may also put an individual at risk for kidney stones or kidney failure.

Other common heartburn medications include H2 blockers, which work to hinder the production of chemicals that promote acid secretion in one’s stomach. H2 blockers can be purchased over the counter and are effective for individuals who need to constantly suppress acid production. Unlike antacids, H2 blockers take longer to be effective and may take up to an hour and a half to work. Typically, H2 blockers are taken before bed, and in some cases, individuals may need to take H2 blockers twice daily. H2 blockers may curtail the secretion of acid for up to 24 hours. These heartburn medications have fewer side effects than antacids, but use of H2 blockers may result in headaches, diarrhea, dizziness, or rashes.

Other common heartburn medications include proton-pump inhibitors, which prohibit the creation of acid in the stomach. Certain brands of this type of heartburn medication can be bought without a prescription. Proton-pump inhibitors tend to be more effective than H2 blockers and are often prescribed for people who don't respond to H2 blockers, have severe signs of heartburn, or suffer from constant nausea. Side effects of proton-pump inhibitors are rare, but may consist of headaches, diarrhea, queasiness, and itching.

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Discussion Comments
By ysmina — On Mar 04, 2014

Is anyone here using H2 blockers to treat heartburn? What is your opinion of this medication? What are the advantages and disadvantages?

By fBoyle — On Mar 03, 2014

@literally45-- I actually completely agree with you. There are some very good heartburn medications out there that work well and provide relief. But sometimes, they're not necessary or they're not enough.

I had severe heartburn for several months this year and took over-the -counter medications to treat it (proton pump inhibitors and antacids). After seeing a doctor however, I found out that I have a bacterial infection in my stomach that was causing my symptoms. My doctor treated me with antibiotics and proton pump inhibitors and my symptoms went away. If I hadn't seen the doctor and continued to use over the counter drugs, I would still be dealing with heartburn, stomach cramps, nausea and other acid reflux symptoms.

By literally45 — On Mar 03, 2014

I'm not against using heartburn medications, but I think that a doctor should be seen first.

Diet changes should be the first option when it comes to treating heartburn. If this doesn't work, then a doctor should be advised before using any medications. Just because a medication is available over the counter does not mean that people should decide on their treatment themselves. I don't agree with the random use of medications without doctor supervision.

There are different underlying issues that can lead to chronic acid reflux and heartburn. Unfortunately, it's not possible to diagnose them without any diagnostic tests. Symptoms definitely give an idea of the possible causes, but it's not definite.

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