Heartburn? Settle your stomach, relieve your wallet
Just in time for the holidays, when many of us may suffer from occasional heartburn, a new Best Buy Drugs report from Consumer Reports Health finds that you probably don’t need an expensive drug like Nexium, the “purple pill,” for relief.
The new report uses comparative effectiveness research to identify “Best Buys” based on safety, effectiveness and price for Proton Pump Inhibitors, a class of drugs to treat heartburn and stomach acid reflux. The report found that no one drug works better than another and that all are relatively safe. However, some PPIs are far more expensive than others.
Last year, U.S. consumers and their insurance companies spent $4.8 billion on Nexium, one of six PPIs currently available, making “the purple pill” the second highest-selling drug in 2008, behind Lipitor. It’s no wonder: a month’s supply of Nexium has a retail price tag of up to $240 a month, compared to just $24 a month for an over-the-counter PPI.
“For most consumers, over-the-counter, generic drugs will treat their frequent heartburn and acid reflux just as well as more expensive prescription drugs, and save them money too,” said Lisa Gill, editor, prescription drugs, Consumer Reports Health. “We think doctors have been too quick to prescribe expensive, prescription medications when a generic or an over-the-counter would work just as well.”
The first and best bet to settle your stomach is to try an inexpensive, over-the-counter antacid (such as Maalox, Mylanta, Rolaids, Tums or their generic versions) or an H2 blocker (Pepcid AC, Zantac 150 or their generic versions). People who suffer from heartburn twice a week or more for weeks or months on end may have GERD, short for gastroesophageal reflux disease, a condition that makes you prone to acid reflux. Those people should see their doctor. They may need a PPI.
Consumer Reports Health notes that people who do need PPIs could save about $200 a month by asking their doctor for an alternative to Nexium such as Prilosec OTC or its generic version, omeprazole OTC, which costs less than $1 a day. Preavacid24HR, an over-the-counter version of Prevacid, could arrive as early as mid-November, providing another good option for consumers.
Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs, which rates more than 200 prescription drugs to treat more than 20 common conditions, is part of a larger initiative by the new Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center to provide consumers with health ratings based on independent and unbiased review of the best scientific evidence available, also known as Comparative Effectiveness Research. Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs reports are available free at www.ConsumerReportsHealth.org.
Help for heartburn
• Track how often you get heartburn, so you can tell your doctor.
• Eat smaller meals, lose weight and avoid alcohol.
• Try over-the-counter antacids such as Maalox, Mylanta, Rolaids, or Tums, or one of many acid-reducing drugs known as an H2 blockers, such as cimetidine (Tagamet HB), famotidine (Pepcid AC), nizatidine (Axid AR) or ranitidine (Zantac 150). These are available as low-cost generics as well.
• See a doctor if symptoms persist.
• Compare cost and effectiveness of different PPIs if your doctor recommends one; check to see if your insurance covers over-the-counter PPIs.