For some people, over-the-counter (OTC) medicine for heartburn may be enough to control their symptoms. Other people require prescription medication to find relief. There are four main medication classes to treat heartburn: antacids, foaming agents, H2 blockers, and proton pump inhibitors. Each type works differently, and sometimes a combination of these medications is the best option for treating heartburn.
If medicine is necessary to treat your heartburn, the drug that your doctor recommends will depend partly on how severe your symptoms are. For some people, nonprescription heartburn medicine may be enough to control their symptoms, especially if combined with changes in diet and lifestyle. But in some cases, these may not be enough. People with severe heartburn may require prescription medicine.
Four classes of drugs are most commonly recommended for the treatment of heartburn:
Antacids (such as Alka-Seltzer®, Maalox®, Mylanta®, Pepto-Bismol®, Rolaids®, Riopan®, and others) are usually the first medications recommended for mild symptoms of heartburn. Many brands on the market use different combinations of three basic salts -- magnesium, calcium, and aluminum -- with hydroxide or bicarbonate ions to neutralize the acid in your stomach.
Antacids are fast-acting heartburn medicines. They should bring relief within 15 to 20 minutes of each episode. If, after several episodes, there is no relief, you should see your doctor.
Antacids may interact with many drugs. You should talk with your doctor about using antacids if you have a condition that requires adjusting sodium in your diet or if you are taking a prescription medicine.
Antacids also have side effects. Magnesium salt can lead to diarrhea, and aluminum salts can cause constipation. Aluminum and magnesium salts are often combined in a single product to balance these effects. Calcium carbonate antacids, such as Tums®, Titralac™, and Alka-2®, can also be a supplemental source of calcium. They can cause constipation as well.
Foaming agents (such as Gaviscon®) work by covering your stomach contents with foam to prevent reflux. These drugs may help those who have no damage to the esophagus.