If you suffer from heartburn, one of the first things to determine is how you wish to treat it.

When it comes to treatment, there are three over the counter medications available: antacids, H2-receptor antagonists, and proton pump inhibitors. While each is effective in controlling heartburn, each treats the condition differently. According to the National Heartburn Alliance, here are the ways to determine which treatment to take and how frequently you should take it.


These treat mild, occasional heartburn. An example is TUMS®. When taken on an empty stomach, relief lasts for 20 to 30 minutes. If taken after a meal, the effects can be felt for two to three hours. However, needing them consistently may be a sign that you require stronger treatment.

H2-Receptor Antagonists

These treat mild to moderate, infrequent heartburn. They will provide relief within an hour and can last six to ten hours. They can be taken at any time, but no more than once in 8 hours, and no more than twice in 24 hours. Sometimes its effects will dull if taken daily, so this treatment should be used only when needed. And if the pain is mild, try a lower nonprescription dose like Zantac 75 or Pepcid® AC; if moderate, try Zantac 150 or Pepcid® AC MAX.

Proton Pump Inhibitors

These treat frequent heartburn (two or more days per week). An example is Prilosec OTC®. It should be taken when the stomach is producing acid (30 to 60 minutes before meals), and since it relieves pain for 24 hours, it should be taken once daily for 14 consecutive days. Also, be aware that a recent study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that these treatments when used for five years or longer longer may increase the risk of bone fractures.

Important Information:

  • Do not take an H2-receptor antagonist or a proton pump inhibitor for more than two weeks; if you feel you must, see your doctor.
  • Antacids may be taken while using an H2-receptor antagonist or proton pump inhibitor, but the latter two should not be taken together unless your doctor suggests doing so.
  • If you are either taking prescription medicine or pregnant or breastfeeding, consult with your doctor before using any type of heartburn medication.
  • Since the medications come in different forms (liquids, tablets, gelcaps, chewable tablets), check the label for instructions.