What is heartburn?
Heartburn occurs when stomach contents flow back up into the esophagus—the muscular tube that carries food and liquids from the mouth to the stomach. Also called acid indigestion, heartburn is an uncomfortable, burning feeling in the mid-chest, behind the breastbone, or in the upper part of the abdomen—the area between the chest and the hips. This feeling occurs because the stomach’s digestive juices contain acid. Sometimes people with this problem can taste food or acidic fluid in the back of the mouth.
What are my OTC treatment options?
There are three classes of OTC medications for the treatment of heartburn.
Antacids relieve heartburn (indigestion). They work by changing the stomach acid that causes heartburn. Common OTC antacids include:
Histamine-2 (H2) blockers
H2 blockers relieve and prevent heartburn and work by reducing the amount of acid produced by the stomach. Typically, they start to work within one to three hours and provide acid-suppression for several hours. Because acid reducers may interact with certain other medicines, ask your doctor or pharmacist before use if you are taking a prescription drug. Common OTC H2-blockers include:
- Tagamet HB (cimetidine)
- Pepcid Complete or Pepcid AC (famotidine)
- Axid AR (nizatidine)
Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs)
OTC PPIs treat frequent heartburn (occurs 2 or more days a week) and are not intended for immediate relief of heartburn, as they may take one to four days for full effect. In contrast, prescription PPIs are used to treat conditions like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), stomach and small intestine ulcers, and inflammation of the esophagus. PPIs work by reducing the amount of acid produced by the stomach. Because acid reducers may interact with certain other medicines, ask your doctor or pharmacist before use if you are taking a prescription drug. OTC PPIs are only intended for a 14-day course of treatment and can be used up to three times per year.
- Prevacid 24HR (lansoprazole)
- Nexium 24HR (esomeprazole)
- Prilosec OTC (omeprazole magnesium)
- Zegerid OTC (omeprazole and sodium bicarbonate)
How do I use these drugs safely and effectively?
- Read the label.
- Do not take more than directed or use for longer than directed on the label.
- If your heartburn symptoms persist even after taking these drugs, then talk to a health care professional.
More Safety Information
Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs)
- Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPI): Class Labeling Change
- FDA Drug Safety Communication: Clostridium Difficile-Associated Diarrhea (CDAD) Can be Associated With Stomach Acid Drugs
- FDA Drug Safety Communication: Possible increased risk of fracture of the hip, wrist, and spine with the use of proton pump inhibitors
If you experience a serious side effect, you or your doctor may send a report to the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) MedWatch Adverse Event Reporting program online or by phone (1-800-332-1088).
More Consumer Information
Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs)
- Q&A on Zegerid OTC
- Prilosec OTC (omeprazole) Information
- Q&A on Prilosec OTC
- Medline Plus Information on PPIs