Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) reduce or inhibit the production of stomach acid, which relieves symptoms of acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). These medications are available over the counter and by prescription. Side effects are possible.

PPIs are often used when over-the-counter (OTC) antacids and lifestyle changes haven’t improved your acid reflux symptoms.

Other medications that can reduce the production of stomach acid include H2 receptor blockers, such as famotidine (Pepcid AC) and cimetidine (Tagamet). However, PPIs are usually more effective than H2 receptor blockers for most people who have chronic acid reflux or GERD.

PPIs work by inhibiting and reducing the production of stomach acid in people with acid reflux. Acid reflux is when acid and other stomach contents flow back up the esophagus (food pipe) causing a burning sensation known as heartburn. Chronic acid reflux causes GERD.

PPIs attach to an acid-pumping enzyme found in the lining of your stomach called hydrogen-potassium ATPase. This action stops the enzyme from aiding in the production of acid secretion. PPIs improve acid reflux symptoms this way, which also allows damaged esophageal tissue to heal.

PPIs don’t completely inhibit acid production, though. You still need some acid to digest the food you eat.

It may take longer for a PPI to ease GERD symptoms compared to an antacid or an H2 receptor blocker, which usually work within an hour. However, symptom relief from PPIs generally lasts longer.

PPIs are also used in the management of:

Read more about heartburn relief.

PPIs are available both over the counter and by prescription. Over-the-counter PPIs include:

Read about the differences between Nexium and Prilosec.

Lansoprazole and omeprazole are also available by prescription at stronger concentrations, as are the following PPIs:

Another prescription drug known as Vimovo is also available for treating GERD symptoms. It contains a combination of esomeprazole and naproxen.

If symptoms don’t improve with PPIs within a few weeks, talking with a healthcare professional is a good idea. Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacterial infections may cause similar symptoms and need additional medications. Although symptoms are not always present, an H. pylori infection may lead you to experience:

  • nausea
  • frequent burping
  • loss of appetite
  • bloating

Read about all OTC medications for GERD.

PPIs are considered safe and effective for the short-term treatment of acid reflux and GERD. However, some people experience side effects while taking these medications, particularly for a long time, and these adverse effects may include:

  • headache
  • rashes
  • lightheadedness
  • nausea
  • bloating
  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • stomachache

Prolonged use of PPIs, which isn’t recommended, may increase the chance of:

  • respiratory infections
  • gastrointestinal infections
  • poor nutrient absorption
  • cognitive decline
  • kidney disease
  • liver disease
  • osteoporosis
  • muscular damage
  • cardiovascular problems
  • calcium, vitamin B12, magnesium, and iron deficiency

Read more about PPI use and kidney failure.

PPIs should not be discontinued abruptly. A healthcare professional can help you create a tapering plan that allows you to reduce the dose gradually until you can stop the drug completely.

Abruptly stopping PPIs may worsen your symptoms or cause other adverse effects. Working with a healthcare professional on alternative acid reflux management strategies is highly advised.

Learn more about GERD and acid reflux treatments.

PPIs are OTC and prescription medications for chronic symptoms of acid reflux and GERD. They work by inhibiting acid production in the stomach.

Although considered safe for short-term treatment, prolonged use of PPIs may cause adverse effects. Working with a healthcare professional to reduce the chance of PPI side effects is highly advised.