Treatment Options for
GERD or Acid Reflux Disease
A Review of the Research for Adults
Is This Information Right for Me?
A doctor said that you have gastroesophageal reflux disease
(GERD), a chronic disease that causes ongoing pain and burning
in the chest and throat (heartburn). GERD is also called "acid
You want to know what research says about your options.
You sometimes have heartburn or acid reflux, but a doctor has not
said that it is GERD.
You are under 18. This information is from research on adults.
Occasional heartburn is common. Just because you have heartburn does not
mean you have GERD. GERD is a more serious form of acid reflux with severe
symptoms that happen often and over a long time. Your doctor can tell you if
you have GERD.
What does this summary cover?
This summary describes GERD and explains research about types
of treatment. It also talks about what research has found about the
benefits and risks of each treatment. It can help you talk with your
doctor about GERD.
Where does the information come from?
Researchers funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and
Quality (AHRQ), a Federal government
research agency, reviewed 166 research
studies on GERD. The report was
reviewed by clinicians, researchers, and
the public. You can read the report at
Understanding Your Condition
What is gastroesophageal reflux disease?
GERD is an ongoing condition in which the contents of the stomach
come back into the esophagus (the tube that carries food from your
mouth to your stomach). Doctors call this "acid reflux." There are several reasons why people have GERD. One possible
reason has to do with the muscle at the bottom of the esophagus.
Normal y, this muscle closes to keep food and stomach acid from
coming back up the esophagus. In some people with GERD this
muscle does not always work right.
GERD often causes heartburn, a burning feeling in the chest
and throat. Heartburn may happen many times a week,
especial y after eating or at night.
GERD can also cause you to cough or have asthma symptoms.
It can also make your voice sound hoarse and raspy. These
symptoms can happen even if you do not have heartburn. The
acid may also leave a bitter taste in your mouth.
How common is GERD?
GERD is one of the most common health problems for adults.
What else should I know about GERD?
Your heartburn may keep coming back if not treated.
Untreated GERD can cause serious health problems. The acid can
damage your esophagus and make it hard to swallow.
In some people with GERD, the cel s in the esophagus can
become abnormal. These abnormal cel s could lead to cancer of
the esophagus, although this is rare.
Understanding Your Options
How is GERD treated?
You may need to make changes to your lifestyle such as maintaining
a healthy weight, quitting smoking, drinking less alcohol, or not
eating foods that make GERD worse.
Treatment options for GERD may be different for each person.
Taking medicine for GERD is the option most people
For some people, surgery can improve GERD symptoms
and lower the amount of medicine they need.
Endoscopic treatments for GERD are newer and are still
being studied, so less is known about how well they work
or how safe they are.
In the next few pages, you can find more information about these
types of treatment.
Different medicines can help control problems
Some relieve heartburn symptoms when they
happen, and some help keep heartburn and
other problems from happening.
Some medicines are taken only when needed
and some are taken every day for a few weeks or
months. Others must be taken every day for years.
Some medicines can be bought over the counter without a
prescription, and others need a prescription. Some are available
both over the counter and by prescription.
The three main types of medicines to treat GERD are antacids,
H2RAs (histamine type 2 receptor antagonists), and PPIs
(proton pump inhibitors).
Antacids stop heartburn by neutralizing (weakening) the acid
in your stomach.
They work quickly to treat mild GERD symptoms.
Antacids go by many names, such as Mylanta®, Rolaids®, or Tums®,
and they are available without a prescription.
They are taken as pil s or liquids.
You may need to continue taking antacids along with an H2RA or PPI
to control symptoms.
H2RAs and PPIs work for a longer time than fast-acting antacids,
but they do not start working as fast.
Histamine type 2 receptor antagonists (H2RAs)
H2RAs cause your stomach to produce less acid. Less acid in
your stomach lowers your chance of getting heartburn.
All H2RAs are available both by prescription and over the counter.
They are taken as pil s.
Names of H2RAs
Pepcid AC®; Calmicid®; Fluxid®; Mylanta AR®
Axid®; Axid AR®
Zantac®; Tritec®; Wal-Zan®
Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs)
PPIs cause your stomach to make less acid, which helps
Many PPIs are prescription only, but some are available over the counter.
They are taken as pil s.
Names of PPIs
Prilosec®*, Losec®*, Omesec®*
O meprazole with sodium bicarbonate
*Available over the counter.
What does research say about medicines for GERD?
PPIs work better than H2RAs to relieve heartburn and let the
Most PPIs work equal y as well as each other to prevent heartburn.
PPIs of prescription and over-the-counter strength seem to work
equal y well to prevent heartburn and let the esophagus heal.
Taking a small dose (amount) of a PPI may work as well as a
larger dose in some cases.
Taking a PPI every day seems to work better than taking it only
when you have symptoms.
PPIs may help cough but not hoarseness caused by GERD,
although there is not enough research to know this for sure.
There is not enough research to know if PPIs help asthma caused
Patients who are very overweight do not respond as well to medicine.
What are the side effects?
Antacids can have side effects such as diarrhea or constipation.
Possible side effects of H2RAs include headache, constipation,
diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting.
PPIs can have side effects such as diarrhea, nausea, vomiting,
pain in your abdomen (bel y), upset stomach, and headache.
PPIs may increase your chance of getting an infection in your intestines
(diarrhea) or lungs (pneumonia). They may also increase your chance
of breaking a bone. These side effects are less common, however.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned in 2009 that taking the PPI
omeprazole (brand name Prilosec®) while also taking clopidogrel (brand
name Plavix®) makes the clopidogrel less effective. Clopidogrel is a medicine
that prevents heart attacks and strokes. It does this by keeping blood from
clotting in the arteries of your heart or the blood vessels in your brain. These
blood clots can lead to heart attack or stroke.
For some people, surgery to strengthen the
barrier between the stomach and esophagus
may be a treatment option for acid reflux.
This surgery to treat GERD is called
a "fundoplication" (pronounced fun-doe-
ply-KAY-shun). Your doctor can tell you if
surgery might help you.
How does surgery for GERD work?
In a fundoplication, the top part of your stomach is wrapped
around the bottom of your esophagus and attached there.
This helps strengthen the muscle at the bottom of your esophagus
that closes to keep food and acid from coming back up.
The surgeon may be able to do the surgery with a tool called a
"laparoscope" (pronounced LAH-pruh-skohp). A laparoscope is a
thin tube with a tiny camera that the surgeon puts through smal
cuts in your bel y along with other small tools to do the surgery.
It usual y takes less time to recover from surgery with a
laporascope than if the surgeon has to make a large cut in your
bel y to do the surgery.
There are two types of surgery: total fundoplication and partial fundoplication.
In a total
In a partial
the top part of
the top part of
your stomach is
your stomach is
wrapped all the
wrapped only part
way around your
of the way around
What does the research say about surgery?
Fundoplication surgery works as well as only taking medicine
to keep you from getting acid reflux and heartburn. However, you
may still need medicine after surgery to control your symptoms.
There are different ways to do the surgery (for example, with
a laporascope or through a large cut in your bel y), but they
all work about the same.
What are the side effects?
Fundoplication surgery can cause you to feel bloated and make it
hard to swallow. These side effects may last for 30 days or longer,
and some side effects may require a second surgery to fix.
Serious side effects, such as infection and heart attack, may be
more common with surgery than with medicine. These side
effects are rare.
Endoscopic (pronounced en-doh-SKAHP-ik)
treatments help strengthen the muscle that
keeps food and acid from going up into
your esophagus. These treatments are not
considered surgery because no cuts are made
in your bel y. Instead, a doctor puts a thin
tube called an endoscope through your mouth
and down your esophagus to do the treatment. Three types of endoscopic treatments are EndoCinch™, Stretta®,
and EsophyX™. These treatments are very new and are not as
common as medicines or surgery to treat GERD. People receiving
one of these treatments may be in a study to see how well it works.
What does research say about endoscopic treatments?
There are not enough studies to say how well endoscopic
treatments (EndoCinch™, Stretta®, and EsophyX™) work to
control the symptoms of GERD.
What are the side effects of endoscopic treatments?
Endoscopic treatments can cause pain in your chest or abdomen
(bel y) and bleeding.
They can also cause you to feel bloated and make it hard to
swallow. These side effects may last for 30 days or longer.
Because these treatments are new, not enough research has been done
to know how safe they are.
Your doctor may suggest some lifestyle changes that can help control
your GERD symptoms. These include:
Maintain a healthy weight.
Avoid eating 3 hours before lying down.
Raise the head of your bed.
Avoid foods that can make GERD symptoms worse (spicy foods, fat y
foods, mint, chocolate, tomato-based foods, coffee, and citrus fruits).
Making a Decision
What should I think about when deciding?
There are several things to consider when choosing a treatment:
The benefits and risks of each treatment.
The cost of each treatment.
Which treatment best fits your likes, dislikes, and values.
What are the costs of treatment?
The cost to you for these medicines depends on:
The type of health insurance you have.
The dose (amount) you need to take.
Whether the medicine is available in generic form or is sold over the
counter. Many H2RAs and PPIs are available over the counter, but
your insurance may not cover the cost if you buy them this way.
Wholesale Prices of Prescription GERD Medicines
* These are wholesale prices are from the 2011 edition of Red Book. Generic prices are the middle value in the range of
prices listed from different manufacturers. The actual prices of the medicines may be higher or lower than the prices
listed here depending on the manufacturer used by your pharmacy. N/A = not applicable.
Costs of over-the-counter GERD medicines
The cost of over-the-counter medicines are different for every
store that sel s them. Most cost between $13 and $30 per month
depending on the brand and how much you take.
Ask your doctor
What should we consider when deciding which treatment is
If medicine is the best treatment, does it matter if I buy these
medicines over the counter or if I get a prescription from you?
How long will it take until I feel better?
What do I do if I still have heartburn after treatment?
How will we decide if and when surgery is needed?
Would losing weight or other lifestyle changes help my GERD
symptoms? If so, how do I do that?
Write the answers here:
The information in this summary comes from the report Management
Strategies for Adults With Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease — An
Update. The report was prepared by Tufts Medical Center Evidence-
based Practice Center for the Agency for Healthcare Research
and Quality (AHRQ). For a copy of the report, or for more
information about AHRQ and the Effective Health Care Program,
go to www.effectivehealthcare.ahrq.gov/gerdupdate.cfm. Additional
information came from the MedlinePlus® Web site, a service of the U.S.
National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health.
This site is available at www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus.
This summary was prepared by the John M. Eisenberg Center for
Clinical Decisions and Communications Science at Baylor College of
Medicine, Houston, TX.
This document is made available through an agreement with the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, PHS/DHHS, and is therefore
in the public domain and may be reproduced without permission.
The Connecticut League for Nursing was not involved in the publication's development and in no way influenced its contents.
AHRQ Pub. No.11-EHC049-A
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