One of the questions I get most frequently when talking with acid reflux patients is “How long will it take before I feel better”? This is not an easy question to answer. There are several factors that play a role in how quickly the patient begins to respond to treatment.
The first factor is what type of medication the patient is using to treat their acid reflux. Patients who use acid reducing medications like histamine blocker Zantac should see results fairly quickly. If it has not helped within a few days, then it may be the wrong dose or the wrong medication for you. Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPI) medications can take slightly longer to work. They have to build up in the system and full results may not be present for up to a week. Most people will at least start to feel better after a few days.
Another factor that plays a role in how quickly a patient sees positive results is how much damage they have from their acid reflux. Acid reflux can cause things such as erosions in the esophagus. Those issues can take weeks to fully heal. If a patient is dealing with asthma as a result of acid reflux, it can take up to a month of treatment to see improvements in their breathing and higher doses may be necessary.
Dietary compliance also plays a huge role in how quickly a patient sees results from treatment. I have had many patients tell me that they were given no nutritional advice from their doctor, or were told that they did not need to change their diet. This is such a huge disservice to the patient because diet can play a significant role in treating acid reflux.
Most patients should be avoiding the specific foods they find worsen their symptoms, such as citrus, tomato, spicy foods, high-fat meals, chocolate, additives like sorbitol, alcohol or any other food they find worsens symptoms. Broad dietary restriction of foods that don’t cause your symptoms has not been shown to help. However, in general alcohol and large, fatty meals will cause symptoms in most people. Dietary changes in conjunction with proper medication gives the best results.
If you have overnight reflux symptoms, even if you take medication, propping the head of your bed can help. Do this with bed risers or similar. For some patients remembering to take medication or getting their child to take medication can be difficult.
These issues will also affect the timeline for acid reflux relief. H2 blockers can be taken at any time, even before bed. Most PPIs, however, are best taken approximately 30 minutes before a meal to maximize efficacy. If you are having trouble remembering when to take your medication, try setting a timer on your phone or writing yourself a note.
If your child is having a hard time taking the medication due to taste, ask the pharmacy if they can add a flavoring to the medication to make it more palatable.
If you follow these simple guidelines you should give your body the best chance to bounce back from an acid reflux flare-up quickly. Also consult your doctor if symptoms do not improve.
Jennifer Rackley is a nutritionist and mother of three girls. Two of her children have dealt with acid reflux disease, food allergies, migraines, and asthma. She has a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from Harding University and has done graduate work in public health and nutrition through Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she does patient consults and serves on the Board of Directors for the Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association.