There are many types of treatments to take depending on your heartburn symptoms. Before determining which treatment is best, it’s important to understand what’s going on inside your body when heartburn occurs.
How Heartburn Occurs
Heartburn involves a ring of muscles called the lower esophageal sphincter or LES. It acts like a valve allowing food into the stomach but not out. When the LES stops functioning properly, harsh stomach acid refluxes or backs up into the esophagus, irritating its sensitive lining, causing you to feel pain.
Types of Heartburn
Episodic or occasional heartburn refers to infrequent flare-ups that are fairly predictable. For example, after that all-you-can-eat buffet, this kind of heartburn is usually treated with antacids. Treatment with antacids alone is purely symptomatic though – they’re justified for minor symptoms. By neutralizing the acid in your stomach, antacids can provide fast short-term relief.
At the other end of the spectrum is severe or persistent heartburn. This describes painful, long-lasting episodes of heartburn and may occur most days if not all the time. Persistent heartburn should be assessed and treated by a doctor.
For many people, it’s frequent heartburn that’s the problem. This means you’re experiencing heartburn symptoms at least two or more days a week. If you’re having symptoms that often, you should consider preventing that problem rather than treating heartburn symptoms every time they occur.
H2s vs. PPIs
There are a number of heartburn medications available to treat frequent heartburn. H2 blockers reduce the volume of acid produced by the millions of tiny pumps in your stomach. They take an hour or so to begin working and they can be temporarily effective for up to 12 hours. This used to be the best treatment for frequent heartburn until proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs, were discovered.
PPIs like Prilosec OTC work differently. They actually shut down some of the pumps, preventing the stomach from producing excess stomach in the first place. PPIs like Prilosec OTC are the most commonly recommended product for frequent heartburn. They may take 1-4 days to reach full effect, but one pill a day* will prevent the acid that causes frequent heartburn for a full 24 hours.
Medication is just one of the important parts of heartburn treatment. You can also help yourself by reducing stress, not smoking, exercising regularly, eating smaller portions earlier rather than later in the evening, and avoiding certain foods you know will cause heartburn.