GERD Treatment Overview
First steps to consider
- Most milder cases (once or twice a week) of acid reflux or heartburn can be treated at home.
- Try diet changes and OTC antacids
When you may need a provider
- Acid reflux or heartburn more than twice a week
- Moderate to severe symptoms
Call 911 or go to the ER if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
- Black tarry stool
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When to see a healthcare provider
You should consider seeing a healthcare provider if your gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD) symptoms like acid reflux and heartburn are not getting better after about 2 weeks of home treatments.
GERD should be treated because, over time, stomach acid can cause long-term damage to your esophagus.
GERD symptoms can mimic more serious conditions like heart disease. So it’s important to see a healthcare provider if you’re not sure you have GERD. Older adults should talk to a doctor if they have acid reflux to rule out heart disease.
Getting diagnosed for GERD
Many people with GERD symptoms can be treated without getting a definite diagnosis. But if treatments aren’t helping, your doctor may recommend an endoscopy, which can accurately diagnose GERD. In the procedure, a gastroenterologist (digestive disease specialist) uses a thin scope to take a sample (biopsy) of your stomach wall to send to the laboratory.
What to expect from your visit
- A doctor will discuss your current treatments and any OTC medications you’re taking.
- They may recommend prescription-strength GERD medications to reduce stomach acid.
- There are different types of medications they can try or they may try higher doses to find a treatment plan that works.
- Certain types of medications may also stop the acid reflux from damaging the esophagus.
- Surgery may be needed if symptoms are not controlled by GERD medications or for people who cannot tolerate medications.
- The most common procedure is a Nissen Fundoplication, which tightens the sphincter muscle. This is often recommended to people who have large hiatal hernias—where the upper part of the stomach bulges through an opening in the diaphragm.
Prescription GERD medications
- Famotidine (Pepcid)
- Nizatidine (Axid)
- Cimetidine (Tagamet)
- Lansoprazole (Prevacid)
- Protanprozole (Protonix)
- Dexlansoprazole (Dexilant)
- Rabeprazole (Aciphex)
Types of GERD providers
- A primary care provider can treat mild to moderate symptoms.
- A gastroenterologist is a digestive disease specialist, who can do additional testing and may be more knowledgeable about treatment options.
How to treat GERD at home
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) symptoms like acid reflux, heartburn, and regurgitation can be treated at home by changing your diet and taking OTC medications.
Diet changes include eating smaller meals, losing weight, and identifying and limiting foods that make GERD worse. It may require some trial and error to figure out your triggers.
Most people with GERD try OTC medications to help symptoms by reducing acid in the stomach.
While antacids, like Tums, work quickly, it’s better to try to prevent symptoms in the first place with a daily medication like proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) or H2 Blockers, which lower stomach acid. These acid reflux medications need at least 2 weeks to work.
See a healthcare provider if your symptoms have not improved after being on OTC GERD medications for 2 weeks.
Home treatments for acid reflux
- Antacids like Tums
- Histamine H2-receptor antagonists (H2 blockers) like cimetidine (Tagamet) and famotidine (Pepcid) help reduce stomach acid.
- Proton pump inhibitors (PPI) like esomeprazole (Nexium), lansoprazole (Prevacid), and omeprazole (Prilosec) also help reduce stomach acid.
How can I get rid of acid reflux?
- Eat smaller meals and avoid spicy, fatty, and fried foods, and caffeinated or carbonated drinks.
- Chewing gum can increase your saliva, which reduces the gastric acid in your throat.
- Wait 2–3 hours before lying down after a meal.
- Lose weight if you’re overweight.
- Smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol weaken the valve that keeps stomach acid from coming up.
- Wear clothing that is loose around the waist area to avoid pressure on your stomach.
- Try to sleep with your head elevated to help prevent and reduce symptoms of regurgitation. You can try an acid reflux bed wedge if pillows don’t help.