What You Need to Know about Antacids: Types, Uses, & More
Antacids are over-the-counter drugs that neutralize stomach acids and relieve heartburn and stomach pain. They also help stop the acid reflux that can lead to heartburn. Antacids work by increasing your stomach’s pH (lowering the acidity). When this happens, the enzymes from your stomach can no longer break down proteins into smaller pieces to digest them. As a result, food stays in your stomach for a shorter time before it passes into your small intestine, where digestion continues normally.
You don’t need to read if you take antacids occasionally for occasional heartburn or indigestion. This article focuses on when antacids are used as part of a daily routine to manage frequent heartburn or to prevent it from happening frequently; in other words, if you have frequent symptoms of acid reflux. Read on to learn more.
What are the Different Types of Antacids?
There are two main types of antacids:
H2 Blockers: H2 Blockers include Tagamet and Zantac, which neutralize the extra stomach acid by blocking histamine receptors in your stomach. They are good for occasional heartburn but are not recommended for daily use.
Saccharin: Saccharin-contains antacids, such as Maalox and Mylanta, that neutralize the excess stomach acid by increasing the pH of your stomach. There are also other types of antacids, such as calcium carbonate, magnesium hydroxide and aluminum hydroxide, but these are more commonly used for digestive issues other than acid reflux.
In addition, many brand-name antacids and combinations of antacids are available, and you should look for combination antacids that contain both an H2 blocker and a saccharin-containing antacid.
Side Effects of Using Antacids Daily
Doctors advise taking a daily antacid as a short-term treatment of 8–10 weeks or less. The most common side effect of taking antacids daily is a lowered ability to absorb certain nutrients such as calcium and iron with long-term use. This can cause nutritional deficiencies in your body, especially if you take antacids often.
Regular use of antacids can also cause ulcers or an increased risk of stomach infection, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and a higher risk of esophageal cancer.
Antacids that contain calcium carbonate can also interfere with the normal functioning of the kidneys, which filter the blood and remove waste from the body. In addition, people with certain health conditions should be cautious about using antacids regularly, including pregnant women, people with kidney problems, those taking certain medications, children under 12 years old and people who are over 65 years old.
How to Manage the Side Effects of Antacids?
If you have been prescribed antacids due to frequent symptoms of acid reflux, talk to your doctor or gastroenterologist about ways to minimize or prevent the side effects listed above. Here are a few tips that might help you minimize the risks of long-term antacid use:
Take the lowest dose needed: Taking the maximum dose of antacids is not recommended and might not be as effective at relieving heartburn. Try cutting the antacid in half and taking it with food. In addition, you can try switching to a different type of antacid that you can take in a lower dose, such as a calcium carbonate antacid that does not contain an H2 blocker, a magnesium hydroxide antacid or an aluminum hydroxide antacid.
Choose chewable antacids: Taking the maximum dose of tablets can interfere with how your body absorbs certain nutrients. Switch to chewable antacids, which are less likely to affect how your body absorbs nutrients. If you have any swallowing problems, talk to your doctor about other options.
Switch to other types of antacids: Switching to a different type of antacid can help reduce the risk of side effects. For example, switching from an H2 blocker to a calcium carbonate antacid can help lower the risk of side effects caused by the H2 blocker.
Take the antacid with food: Taking antacids with food can help minimize the risk of side effects since the antacid is less likely to be exposed to stomach acid with food in your stomach.
Be aware of long-term risks: Recognize that long-term antacid use can cause adverse effects. If you have been taking antacids for longer than 8–10 weeks, talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of continued use.
Pros and Cons of Using Antacids Daily
The decision to use antacids on a daily basis is a personal one and depends on the severity of your heartburn and the discomfort it causes you. Here are the pros and cons of using antacids daily for heartburn:
- Antacids can effectively relieve heartburn symptoms.
- Antacids are readily available and inexpensive. Taking antacids does not require you to make any lifestyle changes, such as following a special diet or stopping certain activities.
- Long-term antacid use can cause nutritional deficiencies and other side effects.
- Antacids do not cure or heal acid reflux; they simply treat the symptoms.
- Taking antacids can lead to a higher risk of developing kidney stones.
- Antacids do not prevent acid reflux from coming back.
The decision to use antacids on a daily basis is a personal one and depends on the severity of your heartburn and the discomfort it causes you. If you’re experiencing frequent symptoms of acid reflux and want to use antacids daily, make sure to discuss the risks and benefits with your doctor to minimize the side effects.