Stomach This: All About Antacids

By Cole Purvis
Bottle of colored antiacids

For many of us, the joy of indulging in our favorite foods is oftentimes accompanied by an unpleasant aftermath in the form of heartburn, acid reflux and general discomfort. These digestive disturbances are the result of excess stomach acid in your body. This can cause a burning sensation in the chest and throat. To combat these symptoms, both liquid and chewable antacids have become a staple remedy in many households.

These over-the-counter medications are designed to offer quick relief at an affordable price, but understanding their proper use is essential to avoid potential risks and side effects.

How do antacids work?

After a hearty meal, especially one rich in spicy, greasy, or acidic foods, the stomach produces more acid to aid in digestion. However, in some cases, this increased acid production can upset the pH balance in your stomach. This leads to chest and abdominal pain in the form of heartburn, acid reflux, etc. Antacids come to the rescue by raising the pH level of the stomach acid, effectively reducing its acidity and alleviating the harsh symptoms. By neutralizing the acid, antacids help restore a more comfortable balance within the digestive system, allowing individuals to enjoy their meals without the fear of unwanted pain that often follows.

Why do antacids work?

Antacids work by introducing compounds that counteract excess stomach acid. They typically contain substances like calcium carbonate, magnesium hydroxide, or aluminum hydroxide, according to the National Library of Medicine. These compounds react with stomach acid to produce salt and water, effectively neutralizing the acidity in your stomach. The resulting decrease in acid levels provides seemingly immediate relief from the burning sensation and discomfort associated with heartburn, acid reflux and indigestion.

When is too much?

Tums, a leading manufacturer of antacids, recommends not consuming more than 7,500 milligrams of their product per day. Depending on the individual, the consequences for taking too much may vary. The harsh side effects of antacids are most common in infants and adults over the age of 65, but they can affect any person who acts without necessary precaution. According to the Cleveland Clinic, some typical complications from antacids include constipation or diarrhea, gas, headache, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. More serious side effects could include acid rebound, neuro toxicity, iron deficiency, weakened bones or hypercalcemia.

While antacids provide temporary relief, they should not be relied upon as a long-term solution for chronic digestive issues. Frequent or excessive antacid use might mask underlying conditions that require medical attention, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or peptic ulcers. These conditions may require more comprehensive treatment plans to address the root cause of the excessive acid production.

If you find yourself needing antacids regularly, it’s wise to consult a healthcare professional. They can diagnose the underlying issue and recommend appropriate lifestyle changes or medications that address the problem more effectively. For occasional discomfort, however, antacids can be a safe and effective solution when used according to the guidelines.

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