Heartburn occurs when acid in the stomach seeps up into the esophagus. Stomach acid is nearly as acidic as battery acid, so it’s not surprising that heartburn can pack a wallop. (The painful burning sensation is sometimes mistaken for a heart attack, in fact.)
The good news is, there are enough heartburn remedies to fill a whole aisle of the drugstore and several shelves in the pharmacy to boot.
The bad news is, you may have no idea how to tell the many options apart. Here’s a quick guide.
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Sold as: Maalox, Mylanta, Pepcid, Rolaids, Tums
Where to find them: Available over-the-counter as a tablet (regular or chewable), capsule, or liquid.
How they work: Antacids usually contain some combination of magnesium, calcium, and aluminum in the form of hydroxide or bicarbonate salts that counteract or neutralize the acid in your stomach.
Potential side effects: Diarrhea, constipation, stomach upset, nausea.
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Sold as: Kaopectate, Pepto-Bismol
Where to find it: Available over the counter as a tablets, caplets, or liquid.
How it works: Treats diarrhea by reducing the amount of bad bacteria in the intestine that could be causing the diarrhea.
Potential side effects: Darkening of the tongue and stool.
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Sold as: Gaviscon
Where to find them: Available over-the-counter as a tablet or liquid.
How it works: Creates a layer of foam that floats on top of the stomach contents, keeping them in the stomach where they belong.
Potential side effects: Nausea, constipation, diarrhea.
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Sold as: Pepcid AC, Tagamet HB, Zantac 75 (which are also available in generic versions).
Where to find them: Available in liquid and tablet form, over-the-counter or by prescription (depending on the strength).
How they work: Reduce acid production in the stomach.
Potential side effects: Headache, diarrhea, constipation, dizziness, and sleepiness. High doses over long periods of time can lead to breast enlargement and sexual problems in men.
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Sold as: bethanechol (Urecholine), metoclopramide (Reglan)
Where to find them: Available by prescription only, in liquid and tablet form.
How they work: They strengthen the lower esophageal sphincter (which keeps acid out of the esophagus) and help the stomach empty faster. Reglan also improves muscle action in the digestive tract.
Potential side effects: Dizziness, drowsiness, depression, anxiety.
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Proton pump inhibitors
Sold as: Aciphex, Dexilant, Nexium, Prevacid, Prilosec, Protonix, Zegerid (many are also available in generic versions).
Where to find them: Available by prescription; Prilosec and Prevacid can also be obtained over-the-counter.
How they work: Inhibit acid production.
Potential side effects: Headache, diarrhea, constipation, stomach pain, dizziness, cough. Proton pump inhibitors have also been linked to an increased risk of some bone fractures and infections.
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Sold as: Alka-Seltzer, Gas-X
Where to find it: Available over-the-counter as a tablet (regular or chewable), liquid, or capsule.
How it works: Speeds the passage of gas out of the body.
Potential side effects: Few or none if taken as directed.
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