Can I Just Take Prilosec When I’m Having Heartburn?

If you live with heartburn symptoms that interfere with daily life, knowing about your treatment options is helpful.

Prilosec, which is available both over-the-counter and via prescription, is a medication option that probably comes to mind. But is it effective for occasional heartburn? Learn the answer below.

An Overview of Prilosec

Before jumping into whether Prilosec can be taken just when you have heartburn, it’s helpful to understand what this medication is. Prilosec is a brand-name version of the medication omeprazole, and it is available both over-the-counter and as a prescription. You’ve probably heard the over-the-counter version referred to as Prilosec “OTC.” Prior to its approval in an over-the-counter version, Prilosec was available via prescription only.

While Prilosec OTC is used to treat infrequent heartburn (something which does not necessarily require a doctor’s care), prescription Prilosec is prescribed to individuals under the care of a doctor for a medical condition. Both versions of the drug contain omeprazole.

Prilosec and Heartburn

If you have frequent heartburn, Prilosec can alleviate symptoms by reducing the production of stomach acid. It does this by stopping acid production in the active acid pumps within the stomach, effectively stopping acid at its source.

The makers of Prilosec recommend that the medication be taken to treat frequent heartburn, defined as two or more occurrences of heartburn in a week.

Can You Take Prilosec as Needed for Heartburn?

So, can you take Prilosec just on an as-needed basis when heartburn symptoms appear? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Prilosec was not designed to be used for occasional heartburn, nor is it intended to be taken to provide immediate relief. Some over-the-counter heartburn medications may be designed to provide quick relief for occasional heartburn, but Prilosec works a little differently.

Prilosec can take one to four days to provide its maximum effect, but many patients do see an improvement in heartburn symptoms within the first 24 hours after taking a dose of Prilosec. Since the medication can take a little time to work, it can’t be taken just when having heartburn.

How to Take Prilosec

Since Prilosec is not meant to provide immediate heartburn relief, it is taken for several days in a row instead of on an as-needed basis. People who have frequent heartburn (at least two episodes per week) should take Prilosec for 14-day courses of treatment. During the 14-day course, a person should take Prilosec each morning with a glass of water before eating anything. Prilosec is to be taken just once per day.

The makers of the medication do not recommend that a person take Prilosec for longer than 14 days at a time. After you have completed your 14-day course of treatment, stop taking Prilosec. You can resume taking the medication again in four months. Prilosec should not be taken for more than 14 days in a row or more often than every four months unless a doctor tells you to do so.

In addition to taking Prilosec only for frequent heartburn and never for longer than 14 days, it is important to avoid taking more than one pill per day. Prilosec is meant to provide 24-hour relief, and since it does not take immediate effect, you should not take additional pills.

Prilosec Side Effects

If you have frequent heartburn and are prepared to take Prilosec for 14 days, it’s important to be aware of the side effects. Generally, people who live with frequent heartburn find that the benefits of Prilosec outweigh the risks, but it is still helpful to know what to expect.

You may experience some of the following side effects when taking Prilosec for frequent heartburn:

  • Headache
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Upset stomach or stomach pain
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Cough or other cold symptoms

If side effects become severe or do not go away, consult with your doctor.

Effectiveness of Prilosec

Since Prilosec is not intended for immediate heartburn relief, people may wonder if the medication is effective.

The good news is that researchers have conducted studies to ensure the effectiveness of this medication. According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics, about 50% of people who take Prilosec experience complete relief of heartburn symptoms within 24 hours, and a full 80% have no more than mild heartburn one day after taking the medication.

In addition to the findings above, study results showed that on both day one and day 14, Prilosec was more effective than a placebo pill for treating heartburn symptoms. The study authors reported that Prilosec is highly effective for alleviating frequent heartburn symptoms. What can be concluded from study results like these is that while Prilosec may not provide immediate heartburn relief, it does serve its intended purpose of providing ongoing relief of frequent heartburn symptoms.

The Bottom Line on Prilosec and Heartburn

If you’re looking for medication just to take when heartburn symptoms appear, Prilosec isn’t a suitable option. You cannot just take it when you’re having heartburn. Instead, Prilosec is taken in 14-day cycles, no more often than once every four months, to reduce stomach acid and alleviate frequent heartburn symptoms.

If you’re looking for immediate relief of occasional heartburn, talk to your pharmacist or doctor about other heartburn medications that are a better fit for your situation. If you need medication to take just when having heartburn, Pepcid, Zantac, Tagamet, and Axid may work for you and provide immediate relief, simply because they work differently than Prilosec does.