There are many over-the-counter (OTC) treatments available for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). These include H2 blockers, antacids, prokinetics, and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs).

Acid reflux is a very common condition that occurs when stomach acid flows back up into the esophagus, or food pipe. This causes a person to feel a burning pain in the lower chest area, or heartburn.

If a person experiences acid reflux more than twice per week, they may have GERD. GERD is a long-term condition wherein stomach acid regularly comes up into a person’s esophagus.

According to the American College of Gastroenterology, around 15 million people in the United States experience heartburn symptoms every day.

Acid reflux is common and can occur after eating too much, eating certain foods, or lying down after eating. However, GERD is usually linked to other causes and risk factors.

Some risk factors for GERD include:

  • having excess weight
  • being pregnant
  • smoking or inhaling secondhand smoke
  • drinking alcohol
  • having asthma

There are also some medications that can cause GERD or make the symptoms of GERD worse. These include:

There are a number of ways to treat the symptoms of GERD. These include a variety of OTC options.

This article will discuss some of the OTC treatments for GERD, how they work, and their side effects.

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There are a number of OTC GERD medications available, including:

H2 blockers

H2 blockers are sometimes called H2 receptor blockers or H2 receptor antagonists. These drugs can treat GERD, gastric or duodenal ulcers, gastric hypersecretion, and mild heartburn or indigestion.

Histamine is a chemical that stimulates cells in the stomach lining. This causes the lining to make hydrochloric acid. Having too much hydrochloric acid can cause GERD, along with a variety of other conditions.

H2 blockers work by lowering the amount of hydrochloric acid in a person’s stomach. They do this by binding to the histamine receptors. This reduces the amount of acid that they are able to secrete.

H2 blockers are available over the counter or with a prescription. People tend to tolerate these drugs well.

However, in some rare instances, researchers have linked H2 blockers to cases of clinically apparent liver injury.

Other mild side effects of H2 blockers include:

  • headaches
  • drowsiness
  • fatigue
  • abdominal pain
  • constipation
  • diarrhea

People with renal impairment, those with hepatic impairment, and people over 50 years of age may also develop central nervous system side effects. These side effects include delirium, confusion, hallucinations, and slurred speech.


Antacids are able to treat mild heartburn, indigestion, and mild GERD symptoms. They work by neutralizing the stomach acid, which means that less acid develops in a person’s stomach.

Antacids also inhibit the production of pepsin in the body. Pepsin is an enzyme involved in protein digestion in the stomach.

Pepsin works with the hydrochloric acid inside the stomach to create the ideal environment to allow a person to digest food.

Antacids often work quickly, which means that they offer more immediate relief from the symptoms of GERD than other OTC drugs.

There are a number of antacids available over the counter from a variety of brands, including:

  • Alka-Seltzer
  • Gaviscon
  • Mylanta
  • Rolaids
  • TUMS

Although antacids can treat mild symptoms of GERD, a person should not use these drugs to treat more severe symptoms without first discussing this with a healthcare professional.

There are some adverse side effects associated with antacids that vary depending on what the main ingredient is. These side effects include:

  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • weakening of the bones
  • fluid retention
  • nausea and vomiting
  • abdominal cramps
  • headaches
  • flatulence

In 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a statement that warned people about the risks involved in taking antacids that contain aspirin.

The statement claims that these products come with a risk of serious bleeding that is particularly dangerous for people over 60 years of age. The risk was also higher in people with a history of stomach ulcers and bleeding issues.


PPIs lower the amount of acid the stomach makes.

A person’s stomach contains parietal cells. These cells contain the H+/K+ ATPase enzyme, which is involved in acid secretion in the stomach.

After a person has taken OTC PPIs, their body absorbs them in the small bowel. This medication then blocks the enzyme from working effectively, thereby lowering a person’s stomach acid levels.

There are some reported adverse side effects associated with PPIs. However, it is worth noting that most of these reports lack significant evidence, and determining their validity would require more research.

Some reported adverse side effects of PPIs include:

  • hypomagnesemia, or magnesium deficiency
  • an increased risk of a number of infections, including food-borne infections
  • stomach acid levels rising to levels higher than they were before, if a person stops taking the medication
  • an increased risk of some vitamin deficiencies

A person can purchase OTC drugs in a pharmacy or store. However, prescription medications require a prescription from a doctor.

Only the person who receives the prescription should use prescription medications.

A person should seek medical help if OTC medications do not work or if they still need to use them on a daily basis after 2 weeks of doing so. The doctor may prescribe them prescription drugs that can be stronger or come in larger doses.

There are a number of OTC treatments available for GERD. These include H2 blockers, antacids, and PPIs. These treatments work in differing ways and have varying possible side effects.

A person should, therefore, do their research before deciding which OTC treatment to choose.

If a person is unsure about which treatment will work for them, they should contact a healthcare professional.