Heartburn: H2 Blockers

H2 Blockers

What are H2RAs?

H2RAs (H2 receptor agonists or H2 blockers) are a group of drugs that help reduce the production of acid in your stomach. There are 4 types of H2RAs available and without a prescription. These include Zantac®, Pepcid®, Tagamet®, and Axid®.

Non-prescription H2RAs are used for the relief or prevention of mild to moderate heartburn that occurs once a week or less. But if a doctor prescribes them, they can be used to help treat GERD, ulcers, and other stomach acid related conditions.

H2RAs are very effective in providing extended relief. One dose may last up to 8 hours or longer. Onset of relief usually takes a few hours.

How do H2RAs work?

Inside your stomach lining are special cells called parietal cells. These parietal cells make hydrogen ions, which are pumped into your stomach. This creates stomach acid. For these cells to create stomach acid they need a chemical called histamine.

H2RAs work by helping to block the action of histamine. With less histamine acting on the parietal cells, your stomach can't make as much acid. Less stomach acid means that your heartburn symptoms are relieved or possibly even prevented.

Can I still get heartburn when taking a H2RA?

Onset of relief is much slower with H2RAs than with antacids. It may take 1-3 hours for them to relieve your heartburn. H2RAs can prevent heartburn if they are taken 10-60 minutes before you drink or eat foods that cause heartburn.

Although H2RAs work well, your symptoms can still "break through" their control. If you take these products for a number of days in a row, tolerance could build up. When your tolerance is higher, the medication becomes less effective and you may experience "break through" heartburn.

Are H2RAs right for me?

If you experience heartburn once a week or less or if it's more important for you to have a long acting product than one that works quickly, then H2RAs may be right for you.

If you can predict your heartburn symptoms up to an hour in advance, these products may help you prevent a heartburn episode.

The FDA has approved non-prescription H2RAs for people 12 years and older. Do not take H2RAs for more than 14 days without talking to a doctor first. If you have trouble or pain when swallowing, if you have vomited blood or have black stools then H2RAs may not be right for you. These problems could indicate a serious condition that you need to see your doctor about. When in doubt, read the label on the package and talk to a health care professional if H2RAs are the right treatment for your heartburn symptoms.

Are H2RAs safe?

H2RAs are taken by millions of Americans every day without any problems. However, side effects like headaches, dizziness, constipation and diarrhea can occur.

Some H2RAs may interact more than others with medications. Read the label and check with your healthcare professional if you are taking any other prescription or non-prescription medications.

As with any medication, if you're concerned about safety talk to your doctor or pharmacist.

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