Heartburn can drive you to distraction. Acid comes up from your stomach towards your chest and this is exactly how it feels. While not normally life threatening, heartburn is extremely painful and the burning can make it impossible to concentrate on anything else. Thankfully there are a large number of fairly effective remedies, but unfortunately overdoing heartburn blockers carries health risks of its own.
Antacids are what people usually first turn to when they experience mild heartburn (acid reflux). Overuse of antacids can lead to various, but usually not serious, stomach problems such as constipation and diarrhoea. They can also interefere with the absorption of other medicines.
Offering longer term relief are two kinds of heartburn blockers. In some countries these are available over the counter, which means people might overuse them without realising.
The first kind block a histamine involved in the production of stomach acid. These H2 blockers work for most people and are often prescribed for ulcers and acid reflux. The possible side effects of overuse include dizziness, diarrhoea, and unintentional weight loss. They can also affect how other drugs work.
Proton pump inhibitors are also effective. They block the entire enzyme system that produces acid in the stomach but overuse can lead to increased risk of infection, hip fractures and nutritional deficiencies. They can also become addictive enough that withdrawal symptoms appear after use is stopped. Like H2 blockers and antacids they too interact with other medications.
If you very occasionally experience heartburn, especially after eating certain kinds of food or drinking a lot of alcohol or coffee, then there is probably nothing wrong. An antacid for the immediate symptoms and avoiding future overindulgence is probably all you need to do. There are some lifestyle changes that help too. Stopping smoking and losing excess weight, along with eating a healthy diet, can make a difference.
However there is a possibility that your heartburn is a symptom of something serious and masking the problem allows the underlying cause to continue untreated. If you suffer from frequent or prolonged heartburn then you should consult a doctor.
Don’t try and treat serious heartburn yourself. Heartburn blockers may be available over the counter but this does not mean they should be used long term without advice from your doctor. The side effects can be serious and heartburn blockers don’t treat the cause. In general, when mild symptoms that are normally treated at home persist or become serious then it is time to get medical advice.