Antacids are medications that help relieve symptoms of various digestive disorders, such as acid reflux and heartburn. These products work by reducing the amount of acid in your stomach, making it less likely that you’ll experience discomfort from stomach acid backing up into your esophagus.
In this article, we’ll explore the basics of antacids, how they work, and what you need to know before taking them.
The Role of Stomach Acid
Before we dive into how antacids work, it’s important to understand the role of stomach acid in your body. Stomach acid, also known as gastric acid, is a digestive fluid that is responsible for breaking down the food that you eat. This acid is composed of hydrochloric acid and a few other substances, and its main job is to help the body digest proteins.
In addition to breaking down food, stomach acid also plays an important role in protecting your body from harmful bacteria and other pathogens. When your stomach produces too little acid or too much acid, it can lead to a range of health issues, including acid reflux, GERD, and other digestive disorders.
What are Antacids?
Antacids are medications that work by reducing the amount of acid in your stomach. These products are typically available over-the-counter, and they come in a variety of forms, including chewable tablets, liquids, and capsules.
There are two main types of antacids: those that neutralize stomach acid and those that reduce the production of acid in the stomach. The most common active ingredients in antacid products include calcium carbonate, magnesium hydroxide, and aluminum hydroxide.
Types of Antacids
There are a number of different types of antacids, each of which works in a slightly different way:
- Calcium carbonate: This antacid works by neutralizing stomach acid. It also contains calcium, which can help strengthen bones.
- Magnesium hydroxide: This antacid works by neutralizing stomach acid and reducing inflammation in the stomach. It’s often used to treat acid reflux and other digestive disorders.
- Aluminum hydroxide: This antacid works by neutralizing stomach acid. It’s often combined with magnesium hydroxide to balance out the potential side effects of each medication.
- Sodium bicarbonate: This antacid works by neutralizing stomach acid, but it can also raise the pH of the blood and lead to other health issues.
How do Antacids Work?
Antacids work by neutralizing the acid in your stomach. When you take an antacid, it reacts with the acid in your stomach, forming a new substance that is less acidic. This reduces the amount of acid that can back up into your esophagus, reducing the risk of acid reflux and heartburn.
Antacids also work by reducing the amount of stomach acid that your body produces. Some antacids contain compounds that block the production of acid, such as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) or H2 blockers. These medications can help treat GERD and other conditions that are caused by the overproduction of stomach acid.
When to Take Antacids
If you experience symptoms of acid reflux or heartburn on a regular basis, you may benefit from taking antacids. However, it’s important to talk to your doctor before starting any new medication, especially if you have any underlying health conditions or are taking other medications.
Antacids are typically taken 30 minutes to an hour after eating, and they may be taken as needed or on a regular basis, depending on your condition. When taking antacids, it’s important to follow the dosage instructions carefully, as taking too much can lead to side effects.
Side Effects of Antacids
While antacids are generally safe and effective, they can cause side effects in some people. Common side effects of antacid use include:
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Nausea or vomiting
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
If you experience any of these side effects or any other unusual symptoms, stop taking antacids and talk to your doctor.
The Bottom Line
Antacids are a common treatment for acid reflux, heartburn, and other digestive disorders. They work by reducing the amount of acid in your stomach, which can help reduce symptoms and prevent some health issues. Before taking antacids, talk to your doctor to make sure they are the right choice for your condition and to learn how to use them safely and effectively.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What are the most common active ingredients in antacid products?
- How do antacids work?
- What are some common side effects of antacid use?
- When should you take antacids?
- Are there any risks associated with long-term antacid use?
The most common active ingredients in antacid products include calcium carbonate, magnesium hydroxide, and aluminum hydroxide.
Antacids work by neutralizing the acid in your stomach or by reducing the amount of stomach acid your body produces.
Common side effects of antacids can include diarrhea, constipation, nausea, vomiting, headaches, and dizziness.
Antacids are typically taken 30 minutes to an hour after eating, and they may be taken as needed or on a regular basis, depending on your condition.
Some studies suggest that prolonged use of antacids may increase the risk of certain health issues, including kidney disease and osteoporosis. It’s important to talk to your doctor before using antacids on a long-term basis.
- Mayo Clinic. (2019). Antacids. https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/antacids-and-acid-reducers/about/pac-20394092
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2017). Acid Reflux (GER & GERD) in Adults. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/acid-reflux-ger-gerd-adults
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2019). Tips for Taking Antacids. https://www.fda.gov/drugs/information-consumers-and-patients-drugs/tips-taking-antacids