Maybe you’ve already started taking a proton pump inhibitor, or you’re just starting to talk with your doctor about these medications. You may have some questions about how PPIs work, and what they’ll do to treat your symptoms.
Doctors often prescribe PPIs to treat common conditions like GERD and ulcers, as well as rarer ones like Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome. Here’s an overview of those conditions.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
Acid reflux is when stomach acid flows upward into the esophagus (the tube that connects your mouth to your stomach). When the reflux is persistent, it’s known as GERD. About 60 million people in the United States have acid reflux at least once a month; over 15 million people experience it daily.
Your symptoms may include:
- A burning sensation in your throat or chest
- The taste of food in the back of your throat
- A sour or bitter taste in the back of your throat
Your doctor may tell you that you have GERD if you have acid reflux that happens more than twice a week. You may be wondering: Why do I need to take a medication every day for a problem I only have a couple of times a week? The reason is that GERD, if left untreated, may lead to serious health issues. Too much acid in the esophagus can damage its lining and lead to ulcers and bleeding. Also, scar tissue can develop in your esophagus, causing it to narrow. If too much damage is done to your esophagus, you may develop a condition called Barrett’s esophagus, which may lead to cancer of the esophagus.
People of all ages may experience GERD, even children. Children or infants with GERD may have symptoms that are different from those of an adult. Children may experience:
- Breathing problems
Also, infants may arch their backs during or after feedings and may refuse to eat.
You can learn more about GERD at PDR Health.
Peptic Ulcer Disease
A peptic ulcer is a tiny sore in the stomach or small intestine caused by erosion from stomach acid and digestive juices.
Symptoms of ulcers include:
- Burning pain in your abdomen that can last for hours and is only temporarily relieved by eating or taking antacids
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
About 500,000 people in the United States get a peptic ulcer each year. Peptic ulcers are most commonly caused by a type of bacteria called H. pylori. This stomach bug damages the protective coating of your stomach. As a result, your natural stomach acid causes erosion. If you have an ulcer caused by H. pylori, your doctor may also prescribe antibiotics, to help eliminate the bacteria.
The second most common cause of peptic ulcers is a class of painkillers called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). NSAIDs can reduce the protective coating of your stomach. NSAIDs are popular medications that your doctor may prescribe to treat pain, swelling, and fever. Some NSAIDs are also available over-the-counter without a prescription. Common NSAIDs are Advil/Motrin (ibuprofen), aspirin, and Aleve (naproxen). If you use NSAIDs regularly, you are five times more likely to develop an ulcer.
Learn more about Peptic Ulcer Disease at PDR Health.
Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome (ZES)
ZES is a rare condition where small tumors in the pancreas or small intestine cause your stomach to produce too much acid.
This may lead to:
- Severe GERD
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weight loss
Learn more about Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome at Everyday Health.
Prescription or OTC PPIs?
Certain PPIs are also available OTC. OTC PPIs can be used to treat frequent heartburn. However, you should only use an OTC PPI for a 14-day period, and only up to three treatment periods per year. You should see a health care provider if you think you need OTC PPIs more frequently, as this may be a sign of a more serious condition.
Taking a medication daily is a big commitment, but it may be necessary. You may be asking: How long will I have to be on a PPI, and what can I expect? How do the different PPIs compare, and which is best for me? Talk to your doctor about your symptoms and any concerns you may have about taking your medication.