Taking Heartburn Medications Safely

Published: February 25, 2021

Heartburn can be an occasional annoyance or a frequent tormenter. That uncomfortable burning sensation behind the breastbone is a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD is caused when stomach acid backflows into the esophagus (the tube between the mouth and stomach), and if you have it, you are not alone. GERD is one of the most common health conditions in the U.S., affecting more than 15 million people each year . And it can be more than a temporary annoyance. People with frequent or severe symptoms can experience damage to the esophagus.

What is the best treatment for GERD?

The treatment of choice today is a type of medication known as a “proton-pump inhibitor” (PPI). This medication is available as a prescription, but some products, such as Prevacid 24HR®, Zegerid® OTC, and Prilosec®OTC, also can be purchased at a pharmacy or other retail store without a prescription. While PPIs are very effective, many health care providers, including pharmacists, are concerned about their overuse.

How should I use a PPI?

PPIs can affect other areas of the body and must be used carefully to avoid harm. Non-prescription PPIs should only be taken with the advice of a physician and should not be taken for more than two weeks and no more than three times a year. Prescription-strength PPIs, which are prescribed for GERD, stomach ulcers, and inflammation of the esophagus, can be used for longer periods under a physician’s care.

Are there any risks to using PPIs?

It’s very important to use these medications carefully. Some people who use PPIs increase the risk of getting pneumonia or some can develop a bacterial condition which can cause severe diarrhea. Taking PPIs for longer than a year can also increase a patient’s risk of bone fractures, especially of the hip, wrist, or spine.

What should I remember when taking a PPI?

  • If using a non-prescription product, carefully read all instructions and information (“Drug Facts”) on the package label.
  • Take the medication for no more than 14 days at a time, unless prescribed by your doctor.
  • If you have been prescribed a PPI while hospitalized, ask your doctor if you should continue taking it at home.
  • Review all of the other medications you are currently taking with your doctor and pharmacist before you begin to take a PPI. That is because there are a number of medications that can cause side effects if taken along with a PPI.

Prescription Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs):

  • AcipHex®
  • Dexilant®
  • Nexium®
  • Prevacid®
  • Prilosec®
  • Protonix®
  • Vimovo®
  • Zegerid®

Over-the-Counter PPIs:

  • Omeprazole (generic)
  • Prevacid 24HR®
  • Prilosec®OTC
  • Zegerid® OTC

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