Antacids - Types, How do Antacids Work?

Antacids are used to help with heartburn, upset stomach, acid indigestion, and sour stomach, because they counteract the effects of extra stomach acid. They are almost always taken orally. Most buffer the gastric acid by changing the pH of your stomach, which in turn prevents acid damage from occurring. If you find Antacids ineffective, it is most likely an indication of an underlying medical condition and it may be time to consult with your doctor or primary caregiver about the problem, as it may be time to use stronger medication such as H2-receptor antagonists or proton pump inhibitors.

Types of antacids

There are many different types of Antacids, that all accomplish the same task.

Here is a list of a few antacids

  • Aluminum Hydroxide (which is found in Amphojel)
  • Magnesium Hydroxide (this is otherwise known as Phillips Milk of Magnesia)
  • Aluminum Hydroxide combined with Magnesium Hydroxide (You will find this combination is the active ingredients of both Maalox and Mylanta)
  • Calcium Carbonate (Most commonly known to be in Tums, but is also in Calcium Rich Rolaids, as well as Titralac)
  • Sodium Bicarbonate (You will hear this generally referred to as Bicarbonate of Soda)

Symptoms and Causes of Heartburn/Stomach Upset

Heartburn is a painful or burning feeling in the throat, usually just below the breastbone, caused by a buildup of excess stomach acid. It can rise up to the chest or even the back of the throat, and has even been known to cause asthma and coughing fits. It can wake you up at night, especially with coughing fits, and therefore cause daytime fatigue. Alcohol, caffeine, stress, spicy foods, peppermint, dry foods, and even chocolate can all change the way the esophagus works, and could cause the esophageal sphincter that normally prevents acid from entering the esophagus to malfunction. When this occurs, is when you experience the symptoms that lead you to take Antacids, which in theory neutralizes the acidity of your stomach.

It is very important to tell your doctor if you experience heartburn two or more times a week for a prolonged period of time, as you may be experiencing gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD). Prolonged exposure to stomach acid can cause serious damage to the esophagus, leading to ulcers and worse problems. In some cases (around a quarter to a third of all cases), continued treatment with Antacid is what a primary care provider will indicate for GERD, however, there are other medications, like H2-receptor antagonists and proton-pump inhibitors (though now that PPI’s have come into wide and safe use, H2RA’s have faded away for the most part and are no longer widely used), that may be prescribed to treat the issue before it causes any serious or permanent damage.

When to See Your Doctor

While, as noted above, you should see your doctor if you experience heartburn for 2 or more days a week for more than several weeks consecutively, there are other cases where you need to consult a physician as well. If your stool becomes black or tarry, it may be because blood from an ulcer has mixed with stomach acid. An ulcer that has become that bad needs to be treated immediately by a physician. If you have difficulty swallowing, or food seems like it feels like it has become stuck partway down, it may be because of swelling or scarring on the esophagus from the acid damage, causing blockage or esophageal narrowing. In bad cases, the esophagus needs to be stretched to rectify this.

Strength and Buffers of Antacids

Antacids all change the pH of the stomach to neutralize acid. However, some are stronger bases than others, and some include buffers to prevent the stomach from moving too far towards the base side of the scale. One of the strongest Antacids is Tums EX, which has 600 mg of calcium in each dose, which means that it can also help to treat osteoporosis, thus giving it two benefits. However, there are other equally strong antacids and medications on the market today, some by prescription. As with all medications, you should consult your doctor before starting to take these acid-neutralizers, as there may be potentially serious complications when they’re taken with other drugs.

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