Heartburn is a painful burning sensation felt just below the breastbone. The discomfort is caused by stomach acid, which the body produces to digest food. Heartburn is sometimes triggered by eating acidic or spicy foods and may be accompanied by cough, chest pain, a sour taste or difficulty swallowing. Around 44 percent of U.S. adults suffer from heartburn at least once a month, and about seven percent experience it daily.
Chronic heartburn can sometimes indicate a more serious condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) wherein stomach acid frequently backs up into the esophagus. If left untreated, GERD can damage the esophagus. Prescription and over-the-counter proton pump inhibitors like Nexium and Prilosec provide relief from chronic heartburn by reducing the amount of acid the stomach produces, but many people aren’t getting the full benefits because they’re not taking the drugs correctly.
Why Heartburn Medications Work Best Before Breakfast
Many medications only work properly when taken at certain times. Proton pump inhibitors are activated by eating foods that cause the stomach to produce acid, such as proteins like egg, cheese and meat. They are usually taken once or twice a day and work best when taken 30 minutes before a meal. Unfortunately, less than half of patients prescribed proton pump inhibitors by their primary physicians and a third of people buying over-the-counter formulas take them before breakfast as prescribed. Patients prescribed the drugs by their gastroenterologists were more compliant with seven out of 10 taking the medicine correctly.
Unlike antacids, which provide immediate results, proton pump inhibitors must be taken continuously for a week or so to reach maximum effectiveness. People who don’t take them according to the directions are less likely to experience relief, and they may wrongfully assume the drugs don’t work.
Incorrect Dosing Could Lead to Serious GERD Complications
The costs of treating chronic heartburn and GERD reach up to $10 billion every year. Patients with GERD who aren’t taking proton pump inhibitors as recommended aren’t just wasting their money; they’re also putting themselves at risk for long-term complications such as chronic esophagitis, narrowing of the esophagus, Barrett’s esophagitis and even esophageal cancer. When GERD is kept under control by taking proton pump inhibitors as directed, the risk of developing these is greatly decreased. Before beginning any new drug, patients should take the time to learn about how it works and how it should be taken, so they can reap all of its potential benefits.