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Ingredient Explainer: PPIs vs. H2s vs. Antacids


By Jaime Hollander

If you experience acid reflux or heartburn, you have a lot of treatment options available. The three main categories of products that treat the painful symptoms of indigestion are proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), H2 receptor blockers and antacids. Which products do what, and which is right for you? Read on to find out, and remember that you should always consult your doctor before taking any medications.

Indigestion treatment solutions

The most common go-to solution for acid indigestion – more commonly referred to as acid reflux – and heartburn are over-the-counter antacids, which help neutralize the acid in your stomach and are sold at any drugstore, pharmacy or grocer. Many work in just minutes, though in most cases, their effects wear off in a few hours.

Antacids come in liquid and pill form. Though rare, side effects may accompany overuse and include constipation and diarrhea.  The biggest downside to antacids is that, unlike other options, this treatment works for a very limited time—again, usually a few hours, at most.

H2 Receptor Blockers
H2 receptor blockers are medications that include cimetidine, famotidine or ranitidine, components found in many long-lasting, over-the-counter (OTC) treatments. H2s work by reducing acid production, leaving you with fewer outbreaks.

These receptor blockers are popular among heartburn sufferers because they provide relief for up to 12 hours. While they don’t act as quickly as antacids, H2s do tend to last significantly longer and can be taken in conjunction with antacids for maximum relief. While not common, possible H2 side effects include constipation, diarrhea, headaches and nausea.

Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs)
PPIs block acid production. These medications are stronger than H2s and antacids and are available as both prescriptions and over-the-counter (OTC) treatments. Common PPIs include lansoprazole, esomeprazole magnesium, and omeprazole.

PPIs work best when taken daily, versus as needed. To be successful with PPIs, be prepared to commit to a consistent schedule. What’s more, PPIs may be less effective in overweight patients. PPIs have also been linked to diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain, as well as putting users at an increased likelihood of developing intestinal infections, contracting pneumonia and breaking bones. These side effects, though, are rare. If you or a loved one suffers from reflux or heartburn, there are plenty of over-the-counter and prescription treatment options on the market right now.

Talk to your doctor to determine the right approach for your condition, and, as always, whenever you are taking over-the-counter medications, be sure to follow the instructions on the label.


Third-party references and links provided in this article are for educational purposes only. No sponsorship or endorsement is implied. Information was used from the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

©Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. 2017

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