Is Acid Reflux Medication an Effective Reflux Treatment?

There are different medical treatments that acid reflux sufferers can try to help them prevent, overcome, and soothe their symptoms.  Some of these medicines may be prescribed by doctors, but many can be purchased over-the-counter (OTC) at your local pharmacy or drug store.  Although many acid reflux sufferers depend on these popular reflux treatments to help them with their symptoms, two questions remain:

1. How safe are these drugs for long-term use?
2. Are the drugs actually treating the cause of your acid reflux or just the symptoms?

To help you determine the answers to these questions, the following is information regarding the popular medical treatment options for acid reflux, as well as information on their side effects.  

Antacids - Gaviscon, Maalox, Mylanta, Rolaids, Tums, Pepto-Bismol

Antacids are used to prevent and relieve heartburn.  They are designed to neutralize stomach acid.  For best results, antacids should be taken one hour before eating, or right before reflux symptoms start after a meal.  This allows for the antacid to remain longer in your system, because it takes the stomach longer to empty.  Nevertheless, it is not uncommon for a person to take more than one antacid to relieve heartburn symptoms.

Side effects:  When taken as recommended, antacids are considered safe to use, and though side effects are rare, the most common include: chalk-like taste, increased thirst, stomach cramps, constipation and diarrhea.

Long-term use:  Unless otherwise directed by your doctor, antacids should not be taken on a regular basis for longer than 2 weeks, and recommended doses should not be exceeded.  Antacids are meant for occasional relief of heartburn symptoms; they should not be considered a permanent treatment option.

H2 Blockers / H2 Antagonists (Histamine Antagonists) – Cimetidine (Tagamet), Ranitidine (Zantac), Nizatidine (Axid), Famotidine (Pepcid), Ranitidine bismuth citrate Pylorid).

Similar to antacids, H2 blockers stop acid production, but are more effective at relieving heartburn associated with GERD.  H2  blockers work by attaching to H2 receptors in the stomach to stop the production of acid.  H2 receptors are specific stomach cells that produce acid.  These stomach cells produce acid when they are stimulated by a chemical known as histamine.  Histamine is naturally produced by the body, and when it binds to the H2  receptors of the cells, more acid is produced.  Hence, H2 blockers have a counter effect, and attach to the H2  receptors in order to stop the cell from producing acid.

H2 blockers are most effective when they are taken 30 minutes prior to eating, because by the time the drug has reached its peak level in the body, the stomach is producing the most acid.  H2 blockers can also be taken before bed to help suppress nighttime acid production.

Side effects:  H2 blockers generally cause few side effects, but if side effects occur, the most common include: diarrhea and other digestive problems, dizziness, headache, fatigue, hair loss (Tagamet), sweating (Axid), darkening of the tongue and black stools (Pylorid)

Long-term use:  Unless otherwise directed by your doctor, H2 blockers should not be taken regularly for longer than 2 weeks, and recommended doses should not be exceeded.  H2 blockers are meant for occasional relief of heartburn in GERD that is not accompanied by inflammation or other complications (I.E. ulcers, strictures, Barrett’s esophagus).  H2 blockers should not be considered a permanent treatment option.

Proton Pump Inhibitors – Omeprazole (Prilosec), Esomeprazole (Nexium), Pantoprazole (Protium), Lansoprazole (Zoton), Rabeprazole sodium (Pariet)

Proton pump inhibitors (PPI’s) have been specifically designed to treat GERD and other acid-related diseases. PPI’s completely blocks acid-secreting cells from secreting acid into the stomach.  More specifically, a PPI works by inhibiting a system in the stomach known as hydrogen-potassium adenosine triphosphate enzyme system (commonly known as proton pump).

Although a PPI is similar to H2 blockers, the difference is that a PPI completely stops the production of acid, and does so for a longer time.  Furthermore, PPI not only relieves symptoms of heartburn, it also helps to protect the esophagus from acid, so an inflamed esophagus can heal.   Thus, a PPI is used when H2 blockers do not relieve symptoms, or when there are additional complications with GERD.

PPI’s are highly effective when they are taken an hour before eating.  This allows them to be most active during the time of the stomach’s largest acid production, which occurs after food has been ingested.

Side effects:  Proton pump inhibitors do not usually cause side effects when taken as recommended.  However, common side effects that can occur include:  diarrhea, constipation, flatulence, abdominal pain, nausea, and headaches.  Those who take PPI’s long-term may experience stomach infections, due to the fact that not enough acid is being made in the stomach to destroy bacteria.

Long-term use:  PPI’s are only available by prescription.  They are usually prescribed for 1-2 months, but depending on the individual, they may be prescribed for longer.

Pro-motility Drugs – metoclopramide (Reglan, Clopra, Maxolon, Octamide, Reclomide)

Pro-motility drugs work by stimulating the gastrointestinal tract muscles, which includes the esophagus, stomach, small intestine and colon.  They help increase the pressure in the LES (lower esophageal sphincter) and strengthen the peristalsis (contractions) of the esophagus.  That being said, the overall effects the pro-motility drugs have on the LES is small.  Thus, it is thought that the primary effect of these drugs is that they speed up the emptying of the stomach, which helps to reduce acid reflux by decreasing the length of time food remains in the stomach.

Pro-motility drugs are most effective when taken 30 minutes prior to eating, and before bed.  They are typically used to help GERD sufferers who do not respond well to other treatments, or they are taken in addition to other remedies to help enhance other treatments for GERD.

Side effects:  Pro-motility drugs may cause certain side effects in some individuals including:  involuntary movements of the eyes or limbs, spasms of the face, jaw, and neck muscles.

Long-term use:  The only pro-motility drug approved for GERD is metoclopramide, and it is available through prescription.   It should be used according to a doctor’s instructions.

Remember, every drug has side effects, so make sure you talk to your pharmacist, and read the information that comes with the medication before taking it, to make sure you are aware of what the side effects are.   You should also read the ingredients of the medication to make sure you are not allergic to any of them.  Furthermore, for best results you should only take the medication as prescribed by the product information or your doctor.

While taking medications to treat your acid reflux, regardless if they are prescription or OTC, you should be monitored by your doctor.  Furthermore, you should seek the advice of your doctor when it comes to taking any drug for long term use, and to make sure that the drug will not have interactions with any other medications you may be taking.

Every drug, no matter how minimal the side effects, carries certain risks, and can cause damage when used daily for a prolonged period of time.  Furthermore, if used on a regular basis to treat acid reflux, it is possible for your body to build up immunity to the drug (particularly antacids), causing it to lose its effectiveness.  This typically results in you having to take another and usually stronger drug, further increasing your risk of suffering side effects.

Therefore, although medications may be a useful reflux treatment option, they do not treat the actual cause of your acid reflux, and should not be your only treatment option, or your main method of treatment.  The best way is to prevent acid reflux before it starts, and this is achieved through lifestyle change.

Acid Reflux Treatment

If you are suffering from acid reflux, GERD or heartburn most doctors will recommend some form of prescription medication to combat the symptoms you are experiencing. The problem with this approach is apart from being expensive, most medications prescribed for acid reflux, heartburn and GERD are not designed for long term use and tend to mask the problem rather than addressing it.

For reliable acid reflux, heartburn and GERD treatment information that focuses on preventing and controlling symptoms naturally, read Stop Acid Reflux Now; an easy to follow, comprehensively researched downloadable book by Kathryn Whittaker.

Stop Acid Reflux Now shows you how to easily take control of your acid reflux, heartburn and GERD symptoms through the use of effective natural methods that avoid the need for expensive medications. Read how some really simple lifestyle changes can have a huge positive effect on your health, enhancing the quality of your life.