Over 60 million Americans experience heartburn – a burning pain in the middle of the chest that may move up to the neck. Some people have the feeling that food is “coming back up,” producing an acid or bitter taste. Heartburn is painful and unpleasant, but there are steps you can take to reduce or get rid of it.
Acid is produced to break down food in the stomach. Heartburn is a sign that acid has escaped from your stomach and traveled back up towards the mouth. How does it escape? A muscle at the entrance to the stomach normally opens and closes to let food in. Sometimes, this muscle gets weak or opens at the wrong time, so that food and stomach acid can back up. This causes the burning feeling known as heartburn.
You can take several specific steps to prevent heartburn:
If you do get heartburn, there are several treatments to consider. Two kinds of medicines are available without a prescription (over-the-counter): antacids and H2 blockers.
Using these over-the-counter medications and the suggestions above to prevent heartburn, 70% of people will be able to manage their heartburn without needing a prescription.
These medications work by neutralizing the acid in your stomach.
Some antacids are Tums, Rolaids, Maalox, and Mylanta, plus generics: store brands work just as well. Liquid antacids may provide relief more quickly.
H2 blockers work by decreasing the amount of acid your stomach makes.
Some H2 blockers are: nizatidine (Axid), famotidine (Pepcid), cimetidine (Tagamet), and ranitidine (Zantac).
|name brands||cost*||non-brand (generic) version||cost*|
|Pepcid 10 mg||$10||famotidine||$4|
|Zantac 75 mg||$10||ranitidine||$4|
|Axid 75 mg||$15||nitatidine||not available|
|Tagamet 200 mg||$16||cimetidine||$9|
See your doctor if you have:
If your heartburn does not improve when you take an over-the-counter medicine and use the prevention suggestions above, or if you have heartburn more than twice a week for over a month, talk to your doctor to see if you need a prescription for a proton pump inhibitor (PPI).
Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs)
PPIs work by preventing acid from being made in your stomach.
Some PPIs are: esomeprazole (Nexium), lansoprazole (Prevacid), omeprazole (Prilosec), pantoprazole (Protonix), and rabeprazole (AcipHex).
One PPI is available without a prescription, at a much lower cost: Prilosec OTC.
If you don’t have health insurance or coverage for prescription drugs, Prilosec OTC is the least costly PPI and will work as well to treat heartburn.
Summary of heartburn relief options
|time until symptom relief||available without a prescription?||cost*|
|lifestyle changes||You may never get heartburn!||No medicine needed!||None!|
|H2 blocker||30-60 minutes||Yes||$10|
|PPI: Prilosec OTC||1-4 days||Yes||$20|
|PPI: all others||1-4 days||No||$111|
*Approximate cost is based on www.drugstore.com prices for the lowest priced drug in each class for a 30-day supply