What Are H2 Receptor Blockers?
H2 receptor blockers are a class of medications that can be used to treat conditions that cause excess stomach acid. These medications are available over the counter and by prescription. Common H2 receptor blockers include:
famotidine (Pepcid, Pepcid AC)
cimetidine (Tagamet, Tagamet HB)
H2 receptor blockers are most commonly used to treat gastritis, or inflamed stomach, and to treat peptic ulcers. Peptic ulcers are painful sores that form in the lining of the stomach, lower esophagus, or duodenum, which is the first part of the small intestine. They often develop as a result of inflammation and excess stomach acid. Doctors may also recommend H2 receptor blockers to keep peptic ulcers from returning.
H2 receptor blockers are also frequently used to relieve the symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD is a chronic form of acid reflux, which causes acidic stomach contents to flow back up into the esophagus. The frequent exposure to stomach acid can irritate the esophagus and lead to uncomfortable symptoms, such as heartburn, nausea, or trouble swallowing.
H2 blockers may also be used to treat less common conditions such as Zollinger-Ellison syndrome, a condition that causes an increased production of stomach acid
Doctors may also recommend H2 receptor blockers for off-label use. This means using the medicine to treat a condition that the medication hasn’t been approved to treat. For example, H2 receptor blockers might be used to treat pancreatic problems or used in cases of allergic reaction, even though they aren’t traditionally used for these purposes.
Part 2 of 5: Process
How Do H2 Receptor Blockers Work?
When you take an H2 receptor blocker, the active ingredients travel to specific receptors on the surface of the stomach cells that release acids. The medication inhibits certain chemical reactions in these cells so that they aren’t able to produce as much acid. According to the National Institutes of Health, H2 receptor blockers decrease stomach acid secretions over a 24-hour period by 70 percent. By reducing the amount of acid in the stomach, any damaged tissues are allowed time to heal.
Part 3 of 5: Side Effects
What Are the Side Effects of H2 Receptor Blockers?
Most of the side effects associated with H2 receptor blockers are mild and usually subside as a person takes the medication over time. Only 1.5 percent of people stop taking H2 receptor blockers due to the side effects.
Some of the side effects that may occur with H2 receptor blockers include:
ringing in the ears
a runny nose
Call your doctor if you have any other symptoms that you suspect may be due to taking an H2 receptor blocker.
In rare cases, H2 receptor blockers might cause more serious side effects, such as:
blistered, burning, or scaling skin
changes in vision
Call your doctor or go to the hospital right away if you experience any of these symptoms.
Despite their potential side effects, H2 receptor blockers are usually a very effective treatment for conditions that cause excess stomach acid. You and your doctor can discuss the potential risks and determine whether H2 receptor blockers are the best option for your particular condition. You should never stop taking your medication without talking to your doctor about it first.
Part 4 of 5: H2 Receptor Blockers vs. Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs)
H2 Receptor Blockers vs. Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs)
Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are another type of medication used to reduce stomach acid and treat acid reflux or GERD. Examples of PPIs include esomeprazole (Nexium) and pantoprazole (Pepcid).