Medical Treatment for Acid Reflux Disease

medical treatment guideAcid reflux disease develops when digestive juices like acid from the stomach enter the esophagus, causing irritation, inflammation and the development of heartburn and indigestion. Medications are available to reduce the severity of acid reflux symptoms.
Medical treatment for acid reflux disease aims to either neutralize stomach acid or reduce the production of acid, ultimately reducing the amount of acid that can contact and irritate the esophagus.

Types of Acid Reflux Medications

Acid reflux medications are available over-the-counter and through a prescription. While over-the-counter medications are easily accessible, regular use is not recommended without first consulting with your acid reflux doctor.
For those who experience only occasional acid reflux, your doctor may recommend the use of over-the-counter medicines that neutralize or reduce stomach acid, and no additional treatment may be needed.
If over-the-counter medicine fails to provide relief within a few weeks, your doctor may recommend the use of prescription medication. These stronger medicines are designed to provide symptomatic relief longer and more effectively than over-the-counter drugs.
There are three primary forms of reflux medications:

  • Antacids: These medicines are typically purchased over-the-counter and may be found in tablet and liquid form. They provide quick relief for heartburn by neutralizing stomach acids. It is best to take antacids one hour after eating or at the time you normally experience heartburn after a meal. Examples include Pepto-Bismol, Alka-Seltzer and Tums.
  • H-2 receptor blockers: These medicines are available in both over-the-counter and prescription forms and work by reducing acid production to make stomach liquids less acidic. H-2 receptors help to control heartburn by minimizing the amount of irritation refluxed stomach liquids can cause in the esophagus. H-2 blockers are typically taken twice daily to control symptoms during the day and night. Examples include Zantac, Pepcid, Tagamet and Axid.
  • Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs): These medicines are available in both over-the-counter and prescription forms and are used to block acid production in the glands lining the stomach. This leads to low acid levels in the stomach, which minimizes the risk of stomach acid reaching the esophagus. PPIs are typically taken once per day 30 minutes before your first meal. Examples include Prilosec, Nexium, Protoni x and Prevacid.

Problems with Long-Term Medication Use

Though stomach acid causes heartburn, it is also a necessary part of our digestive system. In some cases, long-term use of acid reflux medications can lead to detrimental health effects due to chronically diminished levels of acid in the stomach.
Prolonged use of anti-reflux medications may contribute to:

  • Osteoporosis
  • Fracture
  • Infection

Acid reflux medications are able to temporarily reduce the severity of acid reflux symptoms. Once medication is discontinued, acid reflux will return. This means medication must be taken indefinitely to control symptoms.