On call: What is best for occasional heartburn?
Q. I have heartburn a few times a month. My doctor suggested I use a generic H2 blocker like famotidine or ranitidine. Is this better than an antacid?
A. Occasional heartburn can certainly be treated with either an H2 blocker—as your doctor suggests—or an antacid. The other H2 blockers available besides famotidine (Pepcid) and ranitidine (Zantac) are cimetidine (Tagamet) and nizatidine (Axid).
H2 blockers cause the stomach to produce less acid. Antacids, in contrast, lower the acidity of the stomach contents. (Antacids typically contain calcium carbonate, magnesium hydroxide, or sodium bicarbonate.) Reducing the overall acidity protects the esophagus from burning or irritation when the stomach contents back up or "reflux."