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Heartburn is a painful, burning feeling in the chest. It is caused by stomach acid that escapes the stomach and flows back into the esophagus. Heartburn can sometimes be a symptom of indigestion. (Read about "Indigestion") It is important to note here that sometimes people mistake a heart attack (Read about "Heart Attack") for heartburn. If you have chest pain, that could be a heart attack, seek immediate medical help. Call 911, do not attempt to drive yourself to the doctor or the hospital.
When you have heartburn, it's tempting to reach for an over-the-counter pill or tablet to make the symptoms go away. But as with any drug, heartburn remedies are not for everyone. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), even though many are now sold over-the-counter, you still need to take precautions.
For example, FDA says some heartburn drugs interact with other medications. (Read about "Drug Interaction Precautions") Others should be avoided by those with certain medical conditions, such as high blood pressure. (Read about "Hypertension: High Blood Pressure") Therefore, it's important to read the label and consult with your healthcare provider before taking these medications, especially if you find the symptoms of heartburn are recurring regularly. Constant heartburn can be an indication of a much more serious condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. (Read about "GERD")
According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC), heartburn medications generally work by either reducing the amount of stomach acid produced by your body or by neutralizing it.
Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter antacids, which you can buy without a prescription, or medications that stop acid production or help the muscles that empty your stomach. They can include any of the following:
Because drugs work in different ways, combinations of drugs may help control symptoms. People who get heartburn after eating may take both antacids and H2 blockers. The antacids work first to neutralize the acid in the stomach, while the H2 blockers act on acid production. By the time the antacid stops working, the H2 blocker will have stopped acid production. Your doctor is the best source of information on how to use medications for heartburn.
Again, although these products are familiar on drug store shelves, they should not be taken lightly. For example, FDA says that if you're on a salt-restricted diet, it's important to consult with your doctor before taking antacids. (Read about "Sodium") Depending on the active ingredient, various antacids may lead to kidney problems, constipation, or weakened bones, as well as other problems. Antacid pills or tablets can also interact with other medications you may be taking, so always use precaution before considering these products. (Read about "Medicine Safety")
Given the complications that can result from misuse of heartburn medications, probably the best way to deal with heartburn is to avoid it in the first place. The American Academy of Family Physicians has these suggestions:
And if you seem to be getting heartburn regularly, see a doctor. Your symptoms could indicate a more serious underlying problem that needs medical care.
All Concept Communications material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.
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