The Big Difference Between Pepcid And Tums

If you've ever experienced heartburn or acid reflux, you're probably no stranger to medication like Pepcid and Tums, but what's the difference?

According to a 2019 study by Cedars-Sinai, 1 out of every 3 Americans suffers from acid reflux weekly. Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus due to the valve at the bottom of your esophagus, the lower esophageal sphincter, not tightening properly (via the Cleveland Clinic). When stomach acid flows up into the esophagus, it causes the feeling of heartburn (which actually has nothing to do with the heart, despite the name).

Common symptoms of acid reflux include heartburn, regurgitation, burping, nausea after eating, stomach fullness or bloating, and upper abdominal pain and discomfort (via WebMD). When acid reflux and heartburn happen more than once a month, it's called gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD (via the Cleveland Clinic). GERD can happen due to too much pressure on the abdomen (common during pregnancy), particular types of food (dairy or spicy foods), medications (painkillers and antidepressants), and a hiatal hernia. Luckily, there are over-the-counter medications that can help.

What should you choose to relieve heartburn?

Antacids, like Tums, are a common antidote. Containing calcium carbonate, Tums work within a few minutes by neutralizing stomach acid (via GoodRx Health). However, they only treat symptoms and do nothing to prevent GERD. They also only work temporarily, providing relief for about 30-60 minutes.

Side effects of Tums can include constipation, nausea, and diarrhea. If taken too often, Tums can also create a buildup of calcium in the kidneys, which can lead to kidney stones. If symptoms continue, you may need a stronger medication, like Pepcid.

Pepcid is a type of H2 blocker, which works by blocking histamine, thereby encouraging the stomach to produce less acid. Pepcid, also known as famotidine, is available both over-the-counter and by prescription. As it is a preventative medication, it needs to be taken 10-60 minutes before consuming food. Side effects can include diarrhea, constipation, fatigue, drowsiness, headache, muscle aches, and abdominal pain. A limitation of Pepcid is that it's really only recommended for short-term use. If used regularly beyond a couple of weeks, your body will adjust to it, and it won't be as effective anymore.

While both Tums and Pepcid are great ways to treat the symptoms of heartburn, acid reflux, and GERD, they're not cures. Other ways to reduce the likelihood of symptoms are by eating sparingly and slowly, avoiding acidic foods and carbonated beverages, staying upright after eating, sleeping on an incline, and quitting smoking (via Harvard Medical School).