OTC antacids win consumer loyalty

November 3, 2009

More than 60 million Americans experience heartburn at least once a month, and at least 25 million suffer on a daily basis. A Nielson study reported early in 2009 announced that 94 percent of patients are satisfied with their OTC remedies. The study estimated that OTC medications annually save patients an average total of $174 each in office visits and medication costs. Because of fewer patient visits top physicians, the study attributes $757 million in annual savings to the U.S. healthcare system.

Key Points

More than 60 million Americans experience the distress of heartburn at least once a month, and at least 25 million suffer on a daily basis, according to the National Heartburn Alliance (NHBA). Patients may use the term "indigestion" to describe the symptoms of heartburn, and although the two conditions are different, a person can have symptoms of both. Statistics on indigestion are difficult to find because the definition is vague, but it has been reported to be "almost as common as heartburn."

The NHBA defines heartburn as a burning discomfort in the chest or throat that results when harsh stomach acid comes into contact with and irritates the delicate lining of the esophagus. Exact symptoms and sensations of heartburn vary from person to person, but its most common symptom is often described as a burning or vague feeling of discomfort in the chest just behind the breastbone.

Indigestion, also known as dyspepsia, is a term used to describe one or more symptoms including a feeling of fullness during a meal, uncomfortable fullness after a meal, and burning or pain in the upper abdomen. It involves an excess of stomach acid.

Good news for community pharmacies was reported in January 2009, when the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA) and The Nielsen Company announced results of a study conducted the previous year. Their research indicated 94 percent patient satisfaction with over-the-counter heartburn medications and estimated that OTC therapy saves patients an average total of $174 each in office visits and medication costs annually. In addition, CHPA and Nielsen attribute $757 million in annual savings to the U.S. healthcare system based on fewer office visits.

OTC heartburn and indigestion products have long been available as effervescent tablets, chewables, or liquids. Major brands include Alka-Seltzer, Di-Gel, Gaviscon, Gelusil, Maalox, Mylanta, Pepcid, Rolaids, Tagamet, Tums, and Zantac.

Perhaps reflective of patient satisfaction with current products, or perhaps because of the down economy, only two of the major antacid brands reported product-line changes to Drug Topics this fall.

Pepcid Complete. Johnson & Johnson/Merck Consumer Pharmaceuticals has relaunched its line of Pepcid Complete, "reformulated for a smoother texture and better flavor," including Pepcid Complete Mint and Pepcid Complete Berry. In addition, Pepcid introduced a brand-new flavor, Pepcid Complete Tropical Fruit. According to company literature, "Each flavor still delivers fast, long-lasting heartburn relief; just one tablet starts to neutralize acid in seconds and controls acid all day or all night." This statement is based on 8-hour daytime symptom-relief studies and 12-hour nighttime acid-control studies. The company cautions that "controlling acid" does not imply symptom relief.

Active ingredients in Pepcid Complete are famotidine (acid reducer), calcium carbonate (antacid), and magnesium hydroxide (antacid). Manufacturer's suggested retail prices: 8 ct, $4.99; 25 ct, $9.99; 50 ct, $17.49.

TUMS Dual Action. GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Care has introduced a new, long-lasting treatment: TUMS Dual Action. "Like all TUMS, Dual Action goes to work in seconds but also lasts for hours - all day or all night - offering heartburn sufferers long-lasting relief without compromise," said the company announcement.

TUMS Dual Action contains calcium carbonate, as does the regular TUMS, but also includes an additional antacid ingredient, magnesium hydroxide, and famotidine to help keep heartburn from coming back. The company says this makes it "the longest lasting TUMS ever." Available in berry or mint flavors, the one-dose chewable tablet is said to immediately neutralize acid on contact. Manufacturer's suggested retail prices: 25-dose bottle, $8.99; 50-dose bottle, $15.49.

Dana K. Cassell, a frequent contributor to Drug Topics, lives in North Stratford, New Hampshire.