There are different degrees of GERD ranging from mild symptoms which can be managed by over the counter products and lifestyle changes, to severe or recurrent problems requiring medical treatment.
There are several ways to help with GERD symptoms other than taking medications. Lifestyle modifications such as elevating the head of the bed 4-6 inches can help prevent symptoms of GERD.
Avoiding tight fitting clothes, eating 2-3 hours before bed, and sitting up right after meals can decrease the risk of having heartburn. In addition to lifestyle changes dietary modifications can also decrease the occurrence of heartburn. Avoid acidic beverages such as orange juice, red wine, and sodas as well as fatty foods and foods which exacerbate symptoms. Eating smaller more frequent meals and maintaining a healthy weight can decrease the risk of GERD.
There are several different products available over-the-counter that decrease heartburn. Antacids such as Tums, Rolaids, Maalox, and Mylanta neutralize acid. These can be taken for mild, infrequent heart burn and for relief of current symptoms. Other over the counter medications lower the amount of acid secreted. H2 blockers such as Pepcid®, Zantac®, and Tagamet® are effective and relatively inexpensive. Prevacid® and Prilosec® are the only proton pump inhibitors available OTC, others require a prescription. Over the counter medications are relatively safe but they can interact with other medications. Ask your pharmacist or physician which medication is most appropriate for you.Even though heartburn is common it could be a sign of more serious problems. Patients should see a doctor if they have symptoms two or more times a week, don’t get relief from medications, have difficulty swallowing, acid causes choking, wheezing, or hoarseness, or unexplained weight loss.
Lacey Mullins, Pharm.D.