While prescription GERD medications—including H2 antagonists and proton pump inhibitors—continue to be used more widely, over-the-counter antacids are still effective GERD medications. Before trying prescription medications, many doctors will recommend lifestyle changes and over-the-counter GERD medications.
Antacids that are purchased over-the-counter may be aluminum, magnesium, or calcium based. While all of these GERD medications may be used for short-term relief from acid reflux and heartburn, each carry potential side effects. Calcium-based GERD medications are not recommended for long-term use because of the potential for acid rebounding. However, using calcium-based antacids like Tums and Rolaids on an occasional basis has not been linked to any significant health problems. Antacids that contain aluminum have been associated with an increased risk of constipation. Magnesium-based antacids, on the other hand, may cause diarrhea.
For best results, antacids should be taken about an hour after eating or immediately before acid reflux symptoms usually begin. An additional dose may also be taken two hours after eating if symptoms persist.
If you find that you need to take antacids or other over-the-counter GERD medications on a regular basis, you should talk to your doctor about other treatment options. Some treatments, such as surgery, may be able to provide permanent relief from heartburn and acid reflux.