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Could your (prescription) medication be giving you heartburn — and if so, what can you do to treat your acid reflux?

Are you suffering from acid reflux much more often than you'd like, and is it making your life rather unpleasant? In order to get rid of heartburn in the long-term, you'll want to investigate the possible causes.

Overweight and obesity, consuming a diet rich in foods that can trigger heartburn, stress, alcohol consumption, smoking, and frequently reclining or bending over have all been linked to heartburn [1]. All these contributing factors have one thing in common — they're modifiable. Not all risk factors for heartburn are within your control, though. Certain medications can make your heartburn worse, too. 

Could medications that you take be contributing to your frequent episodes of acid reflux? If so, is there anything you can do to get rid of heartburn?

Medications That Make Your Heartburn Worse

Medications that can make your heartburn worse include:

  • Tricyclic antidepressants
  • Sedatives, taken for anxiety or insomnia
  • Beta-blockers, used by people with hypertension or heart disease
  • Calcium-channel blockers, again used for hypertension
  • Progestin-based medications, such as combined oral contraceptives
  • Drugs taken for Parkinson's disease [2]
  • Asthma medications
  • Aspirin
  • NSAIDs like Naproxen and Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil)
  • Antibiotics of the tetracycline class
  • Any medication that contains iron [3]
We would advise people who began suffering from frequent heartburn shortly after starting any medication to check the package insert of their drug to see whether heartburn is a possible side effect. You can also ask your doctor or pharmacist, and they will be happy to tell you about the potential adverse effects of any medication you are using. 

All the medications listed above are pretty essential — when you need a medication to stay healthy or prevent pregnancy, you may quickly conclude that you'll either need to live with frequent heartburn, or to add antacids, H2 blockers, or proton pump inhibitors to your apparently growing medication regimen. The good news is that this is not necessarily true, and you may be able to take certain proactive steps to prevent heartburn. 

I Think My Medication Is Giving Me Heartburn: What Do I Do Now?

Don't continue to suffer from acid reflux in silence — definitely talk to your prescribing doctor, and seriously consider having a good chat with your pharmacist as well. 

Once you take this step, your doctor will first want to investigate whether your heartburn is really caused by the medication you are taking. Heartburn is a pretty common problem, after all: over 40 percent of the general population suffer from heartburn at least once a month, and about a fifth has heartburn attacks approximately once a week [5]. Should factors besides your medication be to blame for your heartburn, you'll likely be advised to make some lifestyle choices, like following an acid reflux diet, losing weight, and changing the timing of your meals. More about that later. 

It's also possible that what you think is heartburn is, in fact, something else. Peptic ulcers and heart problems can both produce symptoms that some people interpret as acid reflux, for instance. 

Should your medication indeed be determined to be the cause of your heartburn — or at least a strong contributing factor — your doctor will work with you to see if there is another medication you can take instead, one that will not give you heartburn as a side effect. [6]

You may be able to opt to use an injectable form of your medication to bypass the esophagus and thus eliminate heartburn, for example. 

Before that happens, however, do keep in mind that you should never stop taking a prescription medication without discussing this with your doctor first. Also, pay close attention to the instructions that come with your medication. If your medication is meant to be taken with a meal, take your medication with a meal. If it's meant to be taken on an empty stomach, follow the instructions. If you are advised to refrain from lying down for a certain period of time after taking your medication, again — do so. These instructions may seem arbitrary at times, but they are actually there for a reason, and they could make all the difference between heartburn making your life hell and being free of heartburn. 

What Else Can I Do To Prevent Heartburn?

While we would never advise you to simply continue to endure side effects caused by a medication you are taking without talking to your prescribing doctor about them, there are things you can do to attempt to achieve symptom relief yourself.

The steps you can take to treat your heartburn fall into roughly three categories:

  • Using over-the-counter medications to treat heartburn
  • Turning to natural heartburn remedies
  • Making lifestyle changes, including going on an acid reflux diet

Over-the-counter antacids - heartburn medications can, themselves, produce side effects you really don't want if you take them for long enough. You don't necessarily want to add diarrhea, kidney stones, and osteoporosis [7] to your list of health problems! You will also want to consult with your pharmacist before you take over-the-counter heartburn medications to make sure they will not interact with the medication(s) you are already using. 

Natural heartburn remedies, which include chewing gum for half an hour after eating [8] making sure you don't eat anything after 7 pm (unless you're meant to take your medication with food after that time) [9], and going for walks after your meals will not harm you in any way, even if they do not cure your heartburn.

Committing to an acid reflux diet, in which you avoid foods that are known to trigger heartburn in some people, is the best thing you can do, however. An acid reflux diet will not interact with your medication in any way. Following the advice to cut down on alcohol and stop smoking can only help your general health, and you can certainly still be healthy if decide to stop consuming tomatoes, citrus fruits, chocolate, peppermint, spicy foods, overly fatty and processed foods, and carbonated drinks [10]. If you are overweight, losing weight can be another very effective step towards treating your heartburn [11]. 

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