Treating Heartburn – OTC Heartburn Medication

Over-the-counter or OTC products are medicines which you can buy without a doctor’s prescription and they are intended for use by those who only experience heartburn occasionally.

The OTC products available to treat heartburn fall into three groups:

  • Antacids
  • H2 Histamine Blockers
  • Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs)

Antacids give relief by reducing or neutralizing the acid in your stomach. They are very good at providing fast, short-term relief.  Many OTC medicines combine different antacids. Their prime ingredients are aluminium or magnesium salts and they are available in capsule, tablet, liquid or powder formats.  The liquid and powder formats are the fastest acting as they immediately coat the surface of the esophagus, providing relief.

H2 blockers work by decreasing the amount of acid produced by your stomach.  These blockers aren’t designed to give instant relief, their benefits usually start to be felt within one hour, but they provide relief from symptoms over a longer period of time than antacids.

Proton pump inhibitors or PPIs as they are now commonly known, greatly reduce the production of stomach acid.  PPIs take longer than H2 blockers but the relief they provide is also longer.


It is important to be aware that if you experience frequent and prolonged symptoms of acid indigestion, you may have a more serious underlying medical condition that needs urgent attention.  Antacids and acid reducers can have side effects but these are usually only minor and they disappear once you stop taking the medication.  The most common problems include diarrhea, constipation, nausea and headaches.  They are also not suitable for everyone and if you have kidney disease you should not take any of the OTC heartburn treatments without the recommendation of your doctor.

You should not combine OTC treatments and if you are taking other prescribed medications it is important to consult your doctor as these treatments may react with or prevent the proper absorption of the medication you are taking.

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