If lifestyle changes and drugs do not relieve your acid reflux, then speak with your doctor about what else could help. Therefore, your doctor will see if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This article is about treatment of acid reflux with over-the-counter drugs.
What is GERD?
GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) is a chronic acid reflux. It happens when the oesophagus leaks back up with stomach acids. This causes potentially dangerous inflammation or swelling over time. If you are experiencing acid reflux twice a week, then the chances are high that you may have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
- bad breath
- chronic cough
- difficulty swallowing
- repeated vomiting
GERD occurs because the lower oesophageal sphincter (LES) is affected. Typically, after eating or drinking, the LES closes to avoid food from returning to the oesophagus. There are several reasons for a weak lower esophageal sphincter (LES). However, if you have a bad LES, you can feel more heartburn when you eat or drink certain foods. GERD surgery could be the last option for those who do not respond well to remedies, medications, or diet.
Related: herbal remedies for preventing GERD symptoms.
Antacids for Acid Reflux
Antacids neutralise stomach acid to reduce heartburn, sour stomach, acid indigestion, and stomach pain. Simethicone a substance found in many antacids which helps the body get rid of gas (1).
Antacids contain the following ingredients:
- aluminum hydroxide
- calcium carbonate
- magnesium trisilicate
These forms work better and quicker if you swallow it in liquid form. More convenient options are also available, such as tablets and gum. Since they’re available over the counter, and easy to buy. Some of the most common names for brands include:
You should take antacids exactly as instructed by your doctor or according to the label of the box. If you use pills, chew them well for quicker relief before swallowing. In order not to overdose or overuse antacids, be sure to follow the instructions on the bottle. Antacids are supposed to be taken for immediate relief, but they do not prevent these symptoms. There are other drugs that can be used for prevention, such as H2 blockers or PPIs (proton pump inhibitors).
Related: learn about managing heartburn during pregnancy.
There are two kinds of medicines that decreases the production of stomach acid:
- histamine antagonists (H2 antagonists or H2 blockers)
- proton pump inhibitors (PPIs).
Examples of H2 blockers:
- Cimetidine (Tagamet HB)
- Famotidine (Pepcid AC)
In April 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended withdrawal of all forms of H2 blocker ranitidine (Zantac) from the U.S. market. Because they found it contains a cancer-causing agent (2, 3).
Medicine such as esomeprazole (Nexium 24HR), lansoprazole (Prevacid 24HR), and omeprazole (Prilosec OTC) proton-pump inhibitors are sold over-the-counter to treat chronic acid reflux. Often, these types of drugs are available as prescriptions of higher intensity.
Take these drugs in conformity with the package instructions, or as instructed by your doctor. You can see the doctor if these drugs do not relieve the symptoms, or if your symptoms of heartburn worsen or last longer than 2 weeks.
Antacid Side Effects
Long-term use of antacids can cause side effects. Some users may experience constipation, diarrhoea, changes in the colour of bowel movements, and stomach cramps. However, antacids are not recommended for people with a kidney problem or high levels of blood calcium. It can also interfere with medications, such as thyroid hormones.
However, antacids only neutralise acid and doesn’t treat the inflammation caused by GERD. It may destroy the lining or, occasionally, grow into cancer when the oesophagus is left untreated. Therefore, it is important to know that GERD is not self-treated with over-the-counter drugs. This form of drug is just a temporary solution to a long-term problem.
The Bottom Line
To a varying degree, over-the-counter medications will relieve the symptoms of heartburn. Contact your doctor if you have more serious symptoms of heartburn that these drugs do not relieve, or if you have been taking these medicines for over 2 weeks. To see what’s causing your symptoms, you will need a stronger prescription medication and tests.