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How Can You Ease Heartburn Symptoms?

You don't have to take a PPI like omeprazole to ease heartburn symptoms. Other medications and nondrug approaches like baking soda can help.
How Can You Ease Heartburn Symptoms?
Heartburn is a feeling of burning in people chest, and is a symptom of Acid reflux or GERD. A woman suffering from heartburn on a gray background.

If you suffer from heartburn, you might describe it as a burning sensation under the breastbone. People with recurrent reflux can usually also talk about the types of foods that trigger their discomfort. They may take one of several kinds of medications to ease heartburn symptoms, but nearly all of them have some disadvantages as well. Some readers may be fond of an old-fashioned remedy, baking soda in water.

Baking Soda for Indigestion:

Q. Why don’t you recommend baking soda for heartburn? I haven’t seen it in your columns, but it gives me fast relief with no side effects. I don’t have heartburn every day, but when it hits me at night, I don’t want to suffer for any length of time.

A. Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is an old-fashioned antacid. How old? Some medical historians trace its origins back to 3000 BC and the ancient Sumerians. They used burned seaweed containing sodium carbonate to ease indigestion.

Modern baking soda is not derived from plants, though it is still used to ease heartburn symptoms. The directions on the box recommend ½ teaspoon dissolved in 4 oz. of water. Relief is fast but temporary. People with hypertension should be cautious about the sodium content of this home remedy.

Trying Different Drugs to Ease Heartburn Symptoms:

Q. I took omeprazole for years, but when I learned it could weaken my bones my doctor switched me to ranitidine (Zantac). I was pleased to be using something safer for my reflux, but then I read that ranitidine may contain a cancer-causing chemical.

What else could I take to ease heartburn symptoms? I do not want to return to a PPI like omeprazole.

Possibly Pepcid:

A. Have you considered famotidine (Pepcid)? As a histamine-2 blocker, it is in the same class as ranitidine. However, its different chemical makeup means it has not been linked to potential carcinogens. You can purchase it without a prescription just like you bought ranitidine. That would definitely be one way to ease heartburn symptoms, but there are others.

Actually Antacids:

Although many people refer to all acid-suppressing drugs (including both PPIs and H2 blockers) as antacids, they aren’t. But you are probably familiar with some antacids that neutralize stomach acid in the short term to ease heartburn symptoms that crop up occasionally. Drugs like Tums (calcium carbonate), Rolaids (calcium carbonate and magnesium hydroxide) and Maalox (aluminum hydroxide, magnesium hydroxide and simethicone) have been mainstays of OTC treatment of indigestion for years.

Learn More:

You can learn much more about preventing and treating acid reflux and other gastrointestinal conditions in our newly revised eGuide to Overcoming Digestive Disorders. Adopting some dietary changes might help ease heartburn symptoms without serious side effects.

You may also want to listen to our interview with Dr. Robynne Chutkan. It is Show 1224: What Is the Best Way to Manage Your Heartburn?

If you have found a good way to manage reflux, be sure to share it in the Comments below.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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