Acid reflux is caused when hydrochloric acid in the stomach comes back up into the esophagus. When this happens, it causes heartburn and an upset stomach. The formal name for acid reflux is Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease or GERD. Acid reflux is very common and some people suffer from it every day. Depending upon how serious the condition, there are a variety of acid reflux medications ranging from over the counter to prescription.
There are several different types of categories of acid reflux medications. Some are actually more of a remedy for stomach acid than a medication for acid reflux, but often seem to help:
- Antacids – these are sold as Mylanta and Maalox and are non-absorbable antacids. They neutralize the stomach acids, but are not absorbed by the intestine or the stomach. These are a very mild acid reflux medication and will not usually have many side effects, if any at all. They may cause mild diarrhea and may inhibit the body from absorbing calcium.
- Absorbable antacids – These are Rolaids, Tums, baking soda, and Alka-Seltzer. Absorbable antacids are a more effective acid reflux medication and do not inhibit or reduce the body’s ability to absorb calcium. They can, however cause constipation. These medications contain calcium carbonate and if taken for a long time can, in rare circumstance elevate the levels of calcium in the blood. This condition can cause kidney failure and is known as hypercalcemia.
- Stomach acid inhibitors or H2 blockers: These are Tagamet, Zantac, Pepcid, and Axid. These medications are stomach acid inhibitors which slow the production of stomach acid because they block the production of histamine2. The H2 blockers do not neutralize stomach acid like the antacids do and can interfere with other medications. They can take up to ninety minutes to work. H2 blocker side effects include diarrhea, dizziness, headaches, or rash. When used long-term, a possible link between H2 blockers and dementia and mental decline in later life has been noted.
- Proton pump inhibitors – PPIs block acid-secreting molecules in the stomach. There are PPIs which can be bought over the counter, but most are only available by prescription. PPIs block the last step in acid secretion in the stomach and include Nexium, Prilosec, Aciphex, Prevacid, and Protonix. There have been reported side effects from PPIs including diarrhea, nausea, headaches, constipation, and itching. Recent studies have also linked PPIs to an increased risk of hip fractures.
It is also possible to try and relieve acid reflux symptoms with lifestyle and diet changes. Avoiding certain foods, including foods high in fat, spices, chocolate, and citric acid, as well as soda and caffeine, seems to help reduce or eliminate symptoms of acid reflux.
If you are taking acid reflux medications, either prescription or over the counter for acid reflux, it is recommended that you avoid anti-inflammatories including ibuprofen, Advil, Motrin, or naproxen, Aleve, and Naprosyn. It also recommended not to take aspirin, but to take acetaminophen or Tylenol instead. Always take any medications with at least eight ounces of water. If your doctor prescribes a new medication, remember to ask the doctor whether or not it will make your acid reflux worse.