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How Can Antacids Help In Treating Heartburn?

We all like to eat not only when we’re hungry, but when the meals look good. Very often tasty food seduces us to eat over all possible measures and here we have heartburn for desert. You can also suffer from heartburn if you have your meal right before your sleep or if you lie after having it.

There are lots of products for treating heartburn on the market that are available without doctor’s prescription (so-called OTC - over-the-counter): H2 blockers, bismuth subsalicylate, proton pump inhibitors and different combination medicines. Antacids are also OTC medicines that treat heartburn rather effectively.

What are antacids?

Antacids are OTC medicines that are aimed to neutralize stomach acidity. They are indicated in case of heartburn as symptomatic treatment (used occasionally). Also in case of sour stomach, acid indigestion and stomach upset, if the symptoms are mild (for more severe symptoms other medications are advised).

Antacids are taken by mouth and contain the following ingredients in different combinations:

  • aluminum hydroxide
  • calcium carbonate
  • magnesium hydroxide
  • sodium bicarbonate
  • some other ingredients, such as simethicone (chemical that fight gas problems in addition)

All antacids differ in time they stay in the stomach. The longer they stay there, the longer the effects would be, but the longer you should wait for the result (the combination of calcium and aluminum salts). Those antacids, that dissolve fast in your stomach give fast result but work less period of time (the combination of magnesium salts and sodium bicarbonate). You can also longer the effect of antacids by taking medicines after your meal (not before). Some products combine different antacids, some may combine also H2 blockers.

To understand how antacids are working you need first understand the nature of this stinging sensation in your esophagus. When you overeat (or as a result of low stomach acid or other problems) food in your stomach can not be properly digested and just sit there. As it is ‘sitting’ longer than it should be – gases appear (that may cause chest pain, as they go up to your esophagus). As a result it causes some stomach acid slips into your esophagus as well. It hurts you esophagus as acid should be in your stomach for food digesting, and not there. As antacids are taken to lower the amount of stomach acid, it helps to get rid of this uncomfortable sensation.

Examples of antacids

Among most known and used brands of antacid products there are Alka-Seltzer, Pepto-Bismol, Rolaids, Rennie, Mylanta, Talcid, Gaviscon, Milk of Magnesia, Basaljel, Pepsil and many others. They all have different active ingredients and different indications (some of them are for reducing heartburn, some of them – for different purposes). Milanta and Gaviscon are rather popular antacids that are used for controlling heartburn symptoms. All are available without prescription and go in different forms: different types of tablets and in liquid forms with different flavors (cherry, mint, cool mint, orange crème, etc.).

Milanta is an antacid that is aimed to reduce heartburn and gastritis symptoms, and minor symptoms of peptic ulcer. It is also used in case of GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). Milanta combine different active ingredients, such as:

  • Aluminum and magnesium salts (as in Mylanta Ultimate Strength)
  • Aluminum and magnesium salts with simethicone (Mylanta Regular Strength, Mylanta Maximum Strength)
  • Magnesium salts together with calcium carbonate (as in Mylanta Supreme – liquid form or Mylanta Ultra Tabs and Mylanta Gelcaps)
  • Calcium carbonate alone (for children - Children's Mylanta Chewable Tablets – with funny tastes)

Gaviscon is an antacid that combine the same active ingredient as general antacids for heartburn (including Milanta) plus some other constituents that in combination give much more powerful effect on controlling stomach acids. These constituents are alginic acid and sodium bicarbonate; they are believed to form a foam barrier to ‘cover’ the stomach acid for longer effect. Different Gaviscon products combine aluminum and magnesium salts (Regular Strength, Extra Strength – all in tablets or liquids with different flavors).

Milanta and Gaviscon should be taken as directed in you medicine or prescription label. If it comes in liquid form, mix it with water or milk (after shaking the bottle) and drink. If in tablet form – chew the tablet and drink a full glass of water right after it. Do not exceed the dosage or period of time when you use it (ordinary, not loner than 2 weeks).

Both products may cause rather uncomfortable adverse effects, due to its active ingredients:

  • aluminum hydroxide may cause constipation, poor appetite and even bone damage, as it influence the absorption of phosphates ;
  • calcium carbonate may cause constipation, muscles weakness, headaches, urinary tract disorders, nausea and changes in mood;
  • magnesium hydroxide may cause diarrhea and stomach upset;
  • sodium bicarbonate (it is not generally present in Milanta and Gaviscon) may give a laxative effect, may cause swollen feet, and influence your blood pressure)

Other side effects such as vomiting, stomach pain, changes in the color of bowel movements,  metallic taste and dry mouth are also possible.

You should not take antacids (including Milanta and Gaviscon) in case you are:

  • allergic to aluminum or/and magnesium hydroxide (or any other drug)
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  • have kidney disease (or had it in your past - magnesium can be dangerous for you in this case);
  • pregnant (or just planning), breastfeeding;
  • you suffer from dehydration;
  • taking some other medicines (especially digoxin, tetracycline, etidronate, phenytoin) including vitamins and antibiotics;

Remember, antacids are proscribed only for occasional use, as after taking medicines the burning sensation disappears, but the stomach compensates the decrease of acids by providing more acid. So, the problem is not solves in long-term period. After all, in many cases you can control your heartburn by yourself. By practicing good eating habits and looking for more natural ways to relieve your heartburn.

Valentyna Ant.


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