Over The Counter Vs. Prescription Treatments for GERD

Many men and women use over the counter drugs and prescriptions to treat GERD successfully. GERD is a condition that causes heartburn and regurgitation of food from the stomach due to a weak muscle in the esophagus. Lifestyle changes and medications can successfully treat GERD in many patients. GERD causes a number of symptoms that make daily life unpleasant. However, GERD medications can help control and manage these symptoms.

Over the Counter Medications

Antacids

Some doctors recommend antacids to help with minor heartburn. They help neutralize stomach acid so that you do not get the same symptoms. Many antacids use three different types of salt magnesium, aluminum, and calcium. They come in tablets that can be dissolved in water or chewed. Some of the popular brands are Alka-Seltzer, Maalox, Mylanta, Tums, and Pepto-Bismol. 

H2 Blockers

These over the counter medications work by reducing acid production in the stomach. This leads to less unpleasant GERD symptoms. Although they work more slowly than antacids they provide relief for a longer period of time. They take about 1 hour to start working effectively. The over the counter PPI’s are Tagamet HB, Pepcid AC, Axid, and Zantac. These drugs effectively treat about ½ the patients with GERD.

Proton Pump Inhibitors

PPI’s are the most powerful drug in this category to help with GERD symptoms. There are only a few OTC drugs in this category.  They come in pill form and are for patients with frequent heartburn. The available OTC PPI’s are Pervacid 24 Hr, Losec , ProlosecOTC, and Zegerid. They have side effects and your doctor should be consulted before taking these OTC PPI drugs.

Prescription Drugs for GERD

H2 Beta Blockers

Some forms of H2 Beta Blocker come in the form of prescription drugs. They work on the stomach by blocking the production of hydrochloric acid. The drug reabsorbs the acid so it is effectively distributed in the blood.  It lasts several hours and helps ulcers caused by GERD to heal. Prescription medications for this condition are Tagamet, Pepcid, Axid and Zantac. They are stronger doses and for more severe symptoms of GERD.  

Proton Pump Inhibitors

Prescription proton pump inhibitors are stronger than the OTC variety. They are for more severe symptoms of GERD. Some  of the prescription drugs and Nexium, Prevacid, Prilosec, Protonix, and Aciphex. They are usually well tolerated by patients but not recommended for long term use. They are broken down by the liver differently than other drugs. The help the esophagus to heal ulcers created by heartburn and stomach acid.  They are considered effective and safe by many doctors.

Prokinetics

These drugs speed up the stomach emptying out after eating a meal. The prescription drugs are Reglan and Urecholline. They are often used on patients with GERD and other conditions. They prevent stomach acid from rising back into the esophagus which causes acid reflux. They have side effects and should only be taken under the direction of your doctor.

Baclofen

This prescriptions drug relaxes the sphincter muscle in the esophagus reducing acid reflux. It is used in severe cases of acid reflux. It is not as effective as proton pump inhibitors in treating GERD symptoms.

There are many OTC and prescriptions drugs for GERD. It depends on the severity of symptoms and what your doctor recommends is best for you. The positive outcome is that often lifestyle changes and medications help with symptoms.  Home remedies alone are not as effective. 

By Joan Russell

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