The Best Way to Take Heartburn Medication
BY: Stacey Colino
Sure, heartburn medication is helpful, but did you know that when and how often you take it can make a difference in effectiveness and safety? Here, Dr. Cindy Yoshida, a gastroenterologist in Charlottesville, Va., and author of No More Digestive Problems, explains the best ways to take heartburn medication so it’ll do the job you’re counting on it to do.
When to take it: “Antacids are for immediate relief, so you should take them when you’re experiencing heartburn,” says Yoshida. They’re fast-acting remedies -- they should start to provide relief within several minutes -- and you can take them before or after a meal.
How often: You can take repeat doses of some antacids every two to four hours, but many have a maximum dosage per day that you shouldn’t exceed. As with all heartburn medication, be sure to read and follow the instructions on the package, says Yoshida.
2. H2 Blocker (aka histamine receptor antagonist)
When to take it: You can take an H2 blocker before, during or after a meal, but if you know you’re likely to overindulge on tacos and margaritas at a party, your best bet may be to take it preventively, an hour before your big meal. This type of heartburn medication “offers short-term relief so if you take it now, it will work best in the next several hours,” says Yoshida.
How often: H2 blockers can be taken once or twice a day, but you should never take more than two doses in a 24-hour period, per the package instructions.
3. Proton Pump Inhibitor (PPI)
When to take it: While proton pump inhibitors are the most potent type of heartburn medication around, they need time to get into your bloodstream. For maximum effectiveness against heartburn, “most PPIs need to be taken 30 minutes before a meal,” says Yoshida. “Most people take them in the morning before breakfast, but if you’re not a breakfast person, taking them [half an hour] before lunch works as well.” If you’re prone to nighttime heartburn, you can take a proton pump inhibitor before dinner instead.
How often: Most people take proton pump inhibitors once a day, which is the standard recommendation. But some take them on an as-needed basis -- say, once a week or a few times a month.
Finally, some heartburn medication can interact with other medicines you may be taking, so be sure to discuss this issue with your doctor to optimize effectiveness and avoid unpleasant surprises.
Stacey Colino has written for The Washington Post's health section and many national magazines, including Newsweek, Woman's Day, SELF, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Parenting, Sports Illustrated and Ladies' Home Journal. Stacey is a frequent contributor to Live Right Live Well.