Acid reflux is when some of the acid content of a person’s stomach travels up into their esophagus. Recurrent acid reflux may indicate a person has gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Doctors have developed several ways to treat this condition, including prescription medications.

GERD is a common condition that affects around 20% of people in the United States. It can cause a number of unwanted side effects, such as regurgitation, heartburn, and dental erosion. However, there are various medications that can help manage these side effects.

There are two broad types of GERD medications: histamine receptor antagonists (H2 blockers) and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). The latter include prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications, whereas there are currently only OTC H2 blockers available in the United States.

Doctors also recommend nonpharmacological treatments, such as lifestyle modifications, for acid reflux and GERD.

This article discusses different medications for GERD and acid reflux and how they work. It also explores some alternative treatments for acid reflux and GERD.

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Scientists define H2 blockers as medications that help suppress the formation of gastric acid. They combine with histamine receptors in a person’s stomach and reduce the amount of acid in the stomach.

People can take H2 receptor blockers orally as capsules, chewable tablets, or in a water-based solution.

It is very rare for people to accidentally overdose on H2 receptor blockers. However, these medications have a variety of potential adverse effects. A person may experience milder side effects, including:

Other adverse effects of H2 receptor blockers can be more severe. These are more likely to affect people with kidney or liver problems or individuals who are over 50 years of age. These effects may include:

The same 2022 review stated that there are several FDA-approved, prescription-only PPIs. These are pantoprazole, dexlansoprazole, and rabeprazole. PPIs work by preventing the parietal cells in the stomach from secreting as much gastric acid.

PPIs are popular medications. In fact, one of them, omeprazole, is one of the top 10 most common prescription medications in the United States. However, this does not mean that PPIs are completely safe. They may cause adverse effects, which include the following:

  • hypomagnesemia, or low levels of magnesium
  • vitamin B12 deficiency
  • increased susceptibility to food-borne infections
  • rebound acid secretion, which occurs when someone’s stomach acid levels are higher after stopping PPI treatment

If a person takes too many PPIs, they may also experience the following effects:

It is important to note that PPIs are not always effective for everyone with GERD. For example, in around 50% of people who use these medications for non-erosive GERD, symptoms do not disappear. Non-erosive GERD is a type of GERD where rising stomach acid does not cause any harm to a person’s esophagus.

Scientists have also developed various alternative treatment options for GERD. According to a 2021 review, alongside OTC antacids, there are a variety of OTC H2 blockers. These OTC medications include cimetidine and famotidine.

There are also a range of OTC PPIs:

A 2022 review also discussed several nonpharmacological treatments for GERD symptoms. These include a variety of lifestyle modifications, such as

A person may also try elevating their head during sleep to help with GERD symptoms. However, scientists remain uncertain about the efficacy of cutting out particular foods when a person is able to manage their condition.

In some cases, a doctor may recommend surgery to treat someone’s GERD. This may occur when an individual is not responding well to PPI treatment, does not comply with pharmacological or lifestyle therapies, or experiences side effects from medication.

In the United States, one of the most common surgeries for GERD is gastric bypass, which helps by inducing an appropriate amount of weight loss.

Another common surgery doctors may recommend for people with GERD is laparoscopic Nissen fundoplication. This procedure involves a surgeon wrapping part of the stomach around the bottom of the esophagus.

PPIs can take a few days before having any effect on stomach acid production. This makes these medications slower to work than H2 blockers.

Doctors may recommend that people take their PPIs first thing in the morning if they have a single daily dose. If someone has a twice-daily dose, the best time for taking the second dose tends to be 30 minutes before dinnertime.

People should make sure to follow instructions from their doctor when taking medications for GERD and acid reflux.

Learn more about OTC GERD medications.

Acid reflux is when a person’s stomach contents rise into their esophagus. GERD is a condition that doctors may describe as frequent acid reflux. It is a common condition that can cause a number of unwanted effects.

Scientists have developed several prescription-only medications for GERD. Alternative treatments for GERD include lifestyle modifications, surgery, and OTC medications.

A person should consider speaking with a doctor if they are frequently experiencing acid reflux. A healthcare professional can recommend treatments and diagnose any underlying conditions, such as GERD.