Along with dietary and other lifestyle changes, doctors at NYU Langone may recommend an over-the-counter or prescription medication to treat gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. These medications may reduce the amount of acid produced by the stomach during digestion, which in turn reduces the amount of acid pushed back into the esophagus, the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach.
Reducing the reflux of acid into the esophagus also helps to alleviate discomfort, heal irritation in the esophagus, and prevent GERD from becoming a more serious condition, such as esophagitis, a chronic inflammation of the esophagus, or Barrett’s esophagus, a precancerous condition.
For some people, an occasional over-the-counter medication is sufficient to relieve symptoms, such as heartburn. Your doctor may suggest that you at first take a nonprescription medication; if symptoms persist after two weeks, he or she may then recommend a prescription medication.
Available as a liquid or a chewable tablet, an antacid, when taken after meals, can neutralize stomach acid quickly and relieve heartburn symptoms. Antacids alone may treat mild and occasional symptoms of GERD. These medications can be purchased without a prescription and generally produce no significant side effects.
For people with more frequent symptoms of GERD, histamine H2 receptor antagonists, also called H2 blockers, block the action of histamine, which is a chemical in the body that triggers the formation of stomach acid. H2 receptors thereby reduce the amount of acid produced. Although antacids may act more quickly, H2 blockers may reduce symptoms for a longer period.
These medications are available in nonprescription and prescription strength and in tablet, capsule, liquid, or powder form. They should be taken as directed by your doctor.
Proton-pump inhibitors, often called PPIs, block the production of acid in the lining of the stomach. In comparison to H2 blockers, they are more effective at reducing the flow of acid reflux into the esophagus. Your doctor may recommend these medications when GERD symptoms are persistent or severe, when other medications have not worked, or when esophagitis or Barrett’s esophagus has been diagnosed.
PPIs are available by prescription and over-the-counter and should be used according to your doctor’s instructions. These medications are often used for a long period of time, with few side effects. However, long-term use can inhibit the absorption of some vitamins and minerals, specifically B12 and calcium. For this reason, regular follow-up with your doctor is important.