GERD or acid reflux disease is a condition that can be usually managed with dietary and lifestyle modifications. But sometimes, medications can be required to manage the symptoms of this condition. Find out more about this condition, and what medications can be used for its treatment, in this HealthHearty article.
GERD refers to ‘gastroesophageal reflux disease’, which is also known as acid reflux disease and heartburn. The disease is characterized by the back flow of stomach content to the esophagus. The lower esophageal sphincter is a muscular structure that helps keep the stomach content to where it belongs. But at times, this sphincter can fail to perform normally, either due to an inherent defect in its structure, or due to the weakness of the esophageal muscles.
As a result, the stomach content, including the stomach acid and bile can flow back to the esophagus and cause irritation of the lining of the esophagus. This can cause pain and produce a burning sensation in the chest. However, occasional and mild GERD can also be associated with overeating, excessive consumption of alcohol, caffeine, and carbonated beverages, smoking, the consumption of highly acidic and fatty foods, obesity, and pregnancy. Acid reflux disease or heartburn can be managed with lifestyle modifications and certain medications, though surgery can also be required at times.
A number of medications are used for the treatment of gastroesophageal reflux disease, which include, proton pump inhibitors, antacids, H2 receptor antagonists, coating drugs, and promotility agents.
Proton Pump Inhibitors
These are the drugs used for reducing the secretion of gastric acid. They are usually taken orally once in a day for the treatment of acid reflux disease. Some common proton pump inhibitors are, omeprazole, esomeprazole, lansoprazole, pantoprazole, and rabeprazole. The most common side effects associated with proton pump inhibitors are diarrhea, gas, abdominal pain, and headaches.
Antacids are the most frequently used medications for heartburn. They are usually taken before a meal or when the symptoms of GERD appear. Antacids can neutralize stomach acid. These medications basically contain aluminum in various forms. They are usually available without prescription. Some common antacids used for the treatment of acid reflux are, Gaviscon, Mylanta, Rolaids, Maalox, and Tums. The prolonged use of antacids can cause diarrhea or constipation, and an accumulation of magnesium in the body, which can damage the kidneys.
Gastric H2 Receptor Antagonists
H2 receptor antagonists are antihistamines that can reduce the amount of acid in the stomach. Histamine is the chemical that increases acid production following a meal. H2 receptor blockers prevent this to reduce the secretion of gastric acid. These medications are available in both prescription and non-prescription strength. Ranitidine, nizatidine, cimetidine, and famotidine are some common H2 receptor antagonists. Some common side effects that one can experience while using these drugs are, headaches, diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, a runny nose, and dizziness.
Promotility agents are the medications that are used for emptying the stomach faster, and strengthening the lower esophageal sphincter. Some of the most commonly used promotility agents for the treatment of GERD are, Reglan and bethanechol. Cisapride is another promotility agent which is no longer used, as it was found to be associated with QT syndrome. A few common side effects that can be caused by these drugs are, drowsiness, constipation, and irregular heartbeat.
Sucralfate is a medication which coats the lining of the stomach and the esophagus, in order to provide protection against the damage that can be caused by the reflux of stomach content. Some other medications used for this purpose are:
Some of these medications cannot be used in certain health conditions. Therefore, be sure to talk to your physician before using them for treating acid reflux disease.
GERD Medications for Infants
All medications are not suitable for infants and children. Physicians usually recommend lifestyle modifications to treat GERD in newborns. Nevertheless, medications may be required in the case of severe GERD, which can affect the growth of the child. In such a situation, parents should know the medications that can be given to their children. Physicians usually prescribe proton pump inhibitors and H2 receptor antagonists for treating severe acid reflux in babies.
Antacids are usually not recommended for the long-term treatment of GERD in infants, as they contain aluminum. The excess absorption of aluminum may cause certain health problems in babies. On the other hand, the safety of sucralfate in young children has not been established till now. So, it is usually not used for treating acid reflux in babies.
Omeprazole and lanzoprazole are the common proton pump inhibitors that are used for the treatment of infant GERD. Among the various H2 receptor antagonists, cimetidine, ranitidine, and famotidine are considered safe and effective for treating acid reflux in babies.
While taking these medications, it should be kept in mind that their prolonged use can produce several side effects. Therefore, it is better to rely on dietary and lifestyle modifications as much as possible to manage acid reflux. You can also talk to your physician to know about a suitable diet, which can help you control the symptoms of heartburn. If medications are required to manage the symptoms of GERD, then be sure to take them in the appropriate dosage, and under the guidance of a physician. Parents should be more careful while giving medications to their children. Children should be given any kind of medications only after consulting their pediatricians.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for professional medical advice.