Combining classes of medications for heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) may be more effective in controlling symptoms than using just one type of medication. For example, people suffering from heartburn after eating may find that taking both antacids (such as Alka-Seltzer, Maalox, Mylanta or Rolaids) and H2 receptor blockers (such as Tagamet HB, Pepcid AC, Axid AR or Zantac 75) may give them longer lasting relief than taking just one type of medication. The reason has to do with timing. While antacids and H2 blockers used alone are effective in tamping down the pangs of heartburn, they have different timing mechanisms. Antacids work within a few minutes, but are short acting, whereas H2 blockers take longer to become effective but have long-lasting benefits.

The H2 blocker Pepcid AC now comes combined with an antacid (calcium carbonate and magnesium) and is available as Pepcid Complete. H2 blockers are also being used in combination with proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), which suppress production of stomach acid and work by inhibiting the molecule in the stomach glands responsible for acid secretion. They include Prilosec, which is sold over-the-counter, and prescription PPIs such as Nexium, Prevacid, and Protonix. Doctors occasionally recommend patients take a nighttime dose of an H2 blocker for people using PPIs twice a day to prevent a nighttime bout of acid reflux. Other experts, though, suggest that patients taking PPIs only take an H2 blocker to prevent acid breakthrough and reflux symptoms, for example, after eating a heavy meal.

Although, in most cases, these medications have good safety records and few side effects, H2 blockers can interact with other drugs, so be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before taking any type of heartburn medication. More research is also needed to determine the effects of their long-term use.

If you suffer from heartburn, in addition to taking medication, making some simple lifestyle changes may also help in reducing symptoms.

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Excess pounds put pressure on the abdomen, pushing up the stomach and causing acid to back up into the esophagus.
  • Avoid tight-fitting clothing. Clothes that fit snuggly around the waist put pressure on the abdomen and the lower esophageal sphincter.
  • Don't lie down after a meal. Wait at least two to three hours after eating before going to bed.
  • Don't smoke. Smoking decreases the lower esophageal sphincter's ability to function properly.