Acid reflux, commonly known as heartburn, is a condition that occurs when stomach acid leaks into the esophagus and causes inflammation and an uncomfortable burning sensation.
When acid reflux only happens occasionally, it doesn’t pose many health risks, but left untreated, persistent heartburn can cause serious damage to the esophagus. For this reason, it’s important that this problem is treated quickly and effectively, and thankfully there are numerous options that include medication and lifestyle changes. Here is a look at some of the more popular acid reflux remedies available.
There are numerous medications available today that can help prevent acid reflux, and these include both over-the-counter and prescription drugs. However, it’s typically recommended to start out using over-the-counter products first and then move on to prescription medications only if those fail to solve the problem.
Over-the-counter acid reflux medications fall into two general categories: antacids and acid reducers. Antacids work by neutralizing the acid that escapes the stomach and irritates the esophagus. These products are also frequently used to treat other digestive problems as well, such as stomach pain or excessive gas. Antacids are typically taken as needed at least an hour after a meal has been eaten, but they can also be used to prevent nighttime heartburn by taking them without food immediately before bed. Some common antacid brands include Pepto-Bismol, Alka-Seltzer, and Maalox. On the other hand, acid reducers work to slow down the production of acid in the stomach before it has a chance to move into the esophagus. These are normally taken daily.
Both antacids and acid reducers should only be used for a limited time—no more than two weeks. If a person’s acid reflux problems persist longer, prescription medication may be necessary. Additionally, some side effects such as stomach cramps, constipation, or diarrhea are possible when using these products.
In the event that over-the-counter treatments are ineffective, it may be necessary for a person to switch to prescription medications. Many of these products are simply stronger versions of the over-the-counter treatments. For example, proton pump inhibitors are a class of drug that can reduce acid production in the stomach longer and more powerfully than over-the-counter acid reducers. However, as the strength of the drugs increases, so do their side effects. Prescription-strength acid reducers cause similar symptoms like nausea, constipation, and excessive gas, but they can also lead to others such as dizziness, headache, severe abdominal pain, and sore throat.
While they may not always be as effective as medication, making lifestyle changes (especially to diet), can help reduce or even prevent acid reflux in some cases.
Most importantly, these changes involve avoiding products that are notorious for inducing heartburn. Some of the more common ones include citrus fruits, spicy foods, high-fat foods, onions, chocolate, alcohol, and carbonated beverages. Not all of these foods will trigger heartburn in all people, so it’s best to eliminate one food at a time to see if the problem improves.
In addition to making dietary changes, there are some other steps that may help reduce acid reflux as well. One of the best ways is to quit smoking. Cigarettes are responsible for a wide range of health problems, including an overproduction of stomach acid. It’s also been shown that smoking may reduce the strength of the sphincter muscle responsible for keeping acid out of the esophagus. Finally, sleeping changes may also prove to be beneficial in fighting acid reflux. Raising the head of a bed four to six inches can help gravity keep the stomach acid in its place, but it’s important to remember that the entire bed needs to be raised—sleeping on stacked pillows will only place pressure on the abdomen, which can actually make acid reflux worse.