By Deni Hui, The University of Texas at Austin College of Pharmacy
Curist delivers FDA-approved medicines to your door at half the price of traditional brands. We hope everyone stays safe and healthy during this time.
Heartburn is fairly common. Almost everyone gets heartburn from time to time. When that uncomfortable, burning sensation strikes, there are different treatments you can reach for to ease the discomfort right away. There are also several strategies to help prevent your heartburn from happening in the first place. Continue reading to learn more!
How Do I Know If I Have Heartburn or Acid Reflux?
Heartburn is an uncomfortable, burning sensation or pain located in your lower chest, just behind your breastbone. Sometimes, this pain can radiate up into your chest, back, throat or next. It can often get worse after eating (within an hour after meals), in the evening, when lying down at night or bending over. Occasionally, you may also experience a sour or bitter taste at the back of your throat.
Heartburn is a symptom of acid reflux and GERD. Acid reflux is a medical condition in which stomach acid flows backward into your esophagus, the tube that connects your mouth to your stomach. Acid reflux can sometimes progress to GERD which is the chronic form of acid reflux and tends to be more severe.
If you would like a better understanding of how heartburn is caused and how you can properly treat it, make sure to check out our common heartburn myths vs facts article!
How Do I Get Fast, Immediate Heartburn Relief?
In most cases, heartburn can be treated at home with over-the-counter (OTC) medications such as antacids, H2 blockers (also known as acid blockers), and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs).
Do Antacids Treat Heartburn Fast with Immediate Relief?
Antacids such as Tums®, Rolaids®, Maalox®, and Gaviscon® can be purchased over-the-counter and do not require a doctor’s prescription. These medications typically contain ingredients such as magnesium carbonate or calcium carbonate. They work very fast, typically in seconds, to neutralize stomach acid, making your stomach contents less acidic and reducing the possibility that acidic liquid will leak back into your esophagus.
Do H2 Blockers Treat Heartburn Fast with Immediate Relief?
Similarly, H2 blockers such as Pepcid® (famotidine) and Tagamet® (cimetidine) can be purchased over-the-counter and do not require a doctor’s prescription. These medications work in minutes and typically, you will experience heartburn relief within 15 to 30 minutes after taking a H2 blocker to treat heartburn. H2 blockers mainly work by preventing cells in your stomach from producing high levels of stomach acid.
Do PPIs Treat Heartburn Fast with Immediate Relief?
Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) such as omeprazole (brands Curist Heartburn Relief and Prilosec) or esomeprazole (brands Curist Heartburn Relief or Nexium) can be purchased over-the-counter and do not require a doctor’s prescription as well. However, unlike antacids or H2 blockers, PPIs are not intended for immediate heartburn relief. They work by halting almost all production of your stomach acid, and can take up to 1-4 days for full effect.
Which Heartburn Medicine Works Better for Instant Relief: Antacids or H2 Blockers (Tums or Pepcid)?
Antacids (e.g. Tums, Maalox) are great for providing fast, short term heartburn relief. Antacids start working in seconds and are an effective, first line medication for occasional and infrequent heartburn. However, because of their rapid mechanism of action, symptom relief does not last all day when taking antacids. While H2 blockers (e.g. Pepcid) do not relieve symptoms as quickly as antacids (usually takes about 15 to 30 minutes), they can control acid for up to 12 hours.
Most people take an H2 blocker like Pepcid in combination with Tums to provide the quicker onset of action and longer lasting symptom relief.
Which Heartburn Medicine Works Better for Fast Relief: H2 Blockers or PPIs (Pepcid or Prilosec)?
Both H2 blockers (e.g. Pepcid, Tagamet) and PPIs (e.g. Prilosec, Nexium) work by blocking and reducing the amount of stomach acid our body produces. For fast heartburn relief, H2 blockers are usually the go-to when compared to PPIs. This is because H2 blockers start to work in minutes while PPIs may take up to 1-4 days for full effect. PPIs are not intended for immediate relief of heartburn symptoms.
However, there are some randomized controlled trials that have shown that PPIs are more effective in treating GERD, which is the chronic form of acid reflux, than H2 blockers. PPIs, like Nexium, are considered stronger and faster in decreasing stomach acid production compared to H2 blockers.
Which Heartburn Medicine Works Best for Immediate Relief?
Antacids (e.g. Tums, Rolaids) and H2 blockers (e.g. Pepcid) are the best heartburn medicine for immediate relief of your heartburn symptoms. Antacids start to work in seconds to neutralize stomach acid, thereby providing prompt heartburn relief. H2 blockers start to work in minutes and you will be able to experience heartburn relief within 15 to 30 minutes.
H2 blockers, in particular, are also found to significantly reduce the stomach acid released in the evening which is a common contributor to peptic ulcers. This is the reason why H2 blockers are typically used to treat people who have ulcers or who are at risk for getting them.
If you would like to learn more about the similarities and differences between antacids, H2 blockers, and PPIs, make sure to check out our comparison article on Nexium vs Prilosec vs Pepcid vs Tums.
Can I Take Antacids and H2 Blockers Together for Immediate Heartburn Relief?
Yes. Your healthcare provider may want you to take antacids (e.g. Tums, Rolaids, Maalox, or Gaviscon) when you start taking H2 blockers (e.g. Pepcid). Antacids can help control your heartburn symptoms until the H2 blockers start to work. If your doctor prescribes you an antacid, take it an hour before (or an hour after) you take the H2 blocker.
Pepcid Complete® is an over-the-counter product which contains both an antacid (calcium carbonate) and an H2 blocker (famotidine). These active ingredients work together to help stop your heartburn on multiple levels. And conveniently, you can purchase this without a doctor’s prescription.
Can I Take H2 Blockers and PPIs Together for Immediate Heartburn Relief?
No, scientists and clinicians do not recommend taking both an H2 blocker and PPI at the same time to treat heartburn as they have overlapping mechanisms of actions despite working at different stages of production. When used together, it could ultimately lead to extensive acid suppression and decrease the absorption of key nutrients such as Vitamin B12, iron, and calcium. These nutrients are dependent on an acidic environment to be effectively absorbed into our body. Combination therapy of H2 blocker and PPI may also increase the risk of hip fractures and gastrointestinal infections.
If you would like to learn more about the similarities and differences between H2 blockers, and PPIs, make sure to check out our comparison article on Pepcid vs Zantac vs Tagamet vs Protonix.
Can I Take Antacids and PPIs Together for Immediate Heartburn Relief?
Yes. Antacids like Tums may be taken with either omeprazole or esomeprazole to provide immediate heartburn relief. For example, if you experience heartburn symptoms while taking a PPI, you may take an antacid to relieve it. However, keep in mind that there needs to be a gap of 2 hours between taking an antacid and a PPI to avoid drug interactions.
How Can I Prevent Heartburn or Acid Reflux?
Occasional heartburn is common but no cause for concern. Most people can manage the discomfort of heartburn on their own through lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications. The key is to identify what triggers your heartburn and what lifestyle or diet adjustments you can make to help reduce and avoid them. Here are some must-know tips to help you and your loved ones ease heartburn. Making changes to your diet and trying home remedies can go a long way in heartburn prevention.
If you’re pregnant and wonder if any of these over-the-counter heartburn medications are safe for you, check out our article on what you need to know about PPIs during pregnancy and breastfeeding.