Antacids, as the name suggests, counteract acid build-up in your stomach, neutralizing it by raising the pH level in the stomach. Gastric acid is one of the main types of liquids in the stomach. Chemically, it has a pH level of 1-2. (Note: pH is really just a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a chemical or compound.) Gastric acid is comprised primarily of hydrochloric acid, potassium chloride and sodium chloride.

When levels of gastric acid, particularly hydrochloric acid, get too high, they reach the nerves in the gastrointestinal mucosa, signaling pain to the central nervous system. If left untreated, acid reflux can turn into more serious conditions such as peptic ulcers and so forth.

Antacids, which are generally available over the counter, are usually taken by mouth. They are used to treat heartburn, a major symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease or even acid indigestion. Usually reserved for treating minor symptoms, antacids differ in how quickly they work and how long they provide relief. Generally speaking, the longer an antacid stays in the stomach, the longer it works. When you take an antacid after a meal, it remains in your stomach longer than on an empty stomach.

Different types of antacids on the market include, but are not limited to:

  • Alka-Seltzer
  • Maalox
  • Mylanta
  • Tums
  • Rolaids
  • Milk of Magnesia
  • and Pepto-Bismol.

Antacids are supposed to be used occasionally. You should not use them continuously for more than two weeks. If you have symptoms that require their usage for longer than that time frame, you should consider contacting your doctor. In most cases, antacids have little to no side effects.  However, they can cause headaches, nausea, vomiting or constipation, which tend to go away on their own.

Certain prescription drugs can negatively interact with antacids such as:

  • Theophylline (asthma)
  • Warfarin (blood-thinner)
  • Phenytoin (anti-seizure)
  • Anti-fungal or anti-yeast medications such as Diflucan
  • Diazepam (anxiety)
  • Digoxin (heart)

Remember that increased acid in your stomach can be caused by something as simple as over-indulgence in food and/or drink. It’s important to watch what you eat. If you need to take antacids, read the labels and follow the instructions. Contact your doctor if there are problems if you have any difficulties at any time.

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