How much money do you really need to spend to treat frequent heartburn or even acid reflux? $250 a month? $120 a month? Try as little as $24.
Last year U.S. consumers and their insurance companies spent an astonishing $4.8 billion on Nexium, one of several prescription proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs) to treat heartburn and acid reflux. It's no wonder the "purple pill" was the second-highest-selling branded drug in 2008, behind Lipitor.
The problem, though, is that Nexium is no better at treating heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) than cheaper generics or similar drugs available without a prescription, according to a new Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs report.
More than 15 million Americans suffer from heartburn every day. If you have occasional heartburn and have not been diagnosed with GERD, your first and best bet is to try an inexpensive over-the-counter antacid like Maalox, Mylanta, Rolaids, Tums, or their generic equivalent or drugs like Pepcid AC or Zantac 150 or their generic equivalent (known as H2 blockers).
But if you suffer from heartburn twice a week or more for weeks or months on end, you may have GERD, often known as acid reflux. GERD is serious and can inflame or erode the lining of the esophagus. Doctors often treat GERD with a PPI drug, which is effective and generally safe, but the pricetag could drain your budget.
If you take a PPI drug, talk to your doctor about one of several alternatives to Nexium, such as our Best Buy, Prilosec OTC, or its generic, omeprazole OTC. Switching could save you about $200 a month. Also, the prescription PPI Prevacid will be available in mid-November without a prescription. We expect that the new over-the-counter Prevacid 24HR will be comparable in price to Prilosec OTC.
Make sure you're familiar with some simple lifestyle changes you can make to help alleviate heartburn symptoms.
Bottom line: Nexium is an expensive drug, and it's no more effective or safer than other PPI drugs for treating GERD or frequent or severe heartburn. If you find that you need treatment, first ask your doctor for a generic or an over-the-counter drug. Prilosec OTC and its generic, omeprazole, are our Best Buy picks because they are as generally safe and effective as Nexium and considerably less expensive.
Read our latest Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs report to learn more about treating heartburn and GERD. And find out more about our Best Buy Drugs program, which evaluates more than 200 drugs for dozens of common conditions.
-- Lisa Gill, editor, prescription drugs