Antacids are the most common remedy for combating heartburn but there are also the newer H2 Blockers available in different strengths on the market. While they work differently, the result is the same - no painful heartburn.
Antacids are medicines that neutralize stomach acid commonly associated with acid indigestion, upset stomach, sour stomach and heartburn. Some antacids also help relieve gas.
Main active ingredients will differ slightly between brands but most antacids will include one or more of the following ingredients:
- Sodium Bicarbonate
- Magnesium (Hydroxide)
- Calcium (Carbonate)
- Aluminum (Hydroxide)
- Alginic acid/Alginates
There are several antacids available including: Rolaids, Tums, Diovol, Gaviscon and Maalox.
While antacids work to neutralize the acid already produced in the stomach, H2 Blockers work to decrease stomach acid secretion thus preventing heartburn from occurring in the first place. They don’t act as quickly as antacids, but they provide longer relief. You should take these medications before a meal you think may cause heartburn, because it takes them about 30 minutes to an hour for them to work.
H2 blockers are available in both over the counter and prescription forms; for example, Pepcid® (famotidine), Tagamet® (cimetidine), Zantac® (ranitidine), and Axid® (nizatidine) are all over-the-counter H2 Blockers which are also available by prescription at higher doses.
H2 blockers have not been studied on women during pregnancy. However, side effects are unusual for this medication, except among elderly patients. When they do occur, they may include mild diarrhea, constipation, dry skin, rash, runny nose, headache, and dizziness.
General Precautions and Side Effects for Antacids
- are meant to be used only occasionally
- side effects are very rare when antacids are taken as directed and are more likely when the antacids are taken in large does or over a long period of time
- minor side effects can include: chalky taste, mild constipation or diarrhea, thirst, stomach cramps, and whitish or speckled stools
- constipation can often be caused by calcium; look for antacids that contain magnesium which will work to counteract adverse effects of calcium
- calcium-based antacids work quick, but over the long-term the calcium can actually stimulate stomach acid which causes the heartburn in the first place
- should not be taken continuously for more than two weeks unless under a physician’s directions
- taking antacids over long periods could mask the symptoms of a serious stomach or intestinal problem, such as peptic ulcer disease
- many antacids contain lots of salt, which can elevate blood pressure
- older people should be especially careful, as they may have ulcers without showing the typical symptoms
- anyone who is taking any prescription drug should check with the prescribing physician before taking antacids
- antacids may affect the results of some medical tests; if scheduled for a test, ask if you can take antacids before
- should not be given to children under age 6 years unless directed by their physician
- pregnant women should check with physicians before using antacids; occasional use in small amounts is considered safe
- some antacids may pass into breast milk: but there’s no evidence that it causes any problems for nursing babies if only occasional use
The most important and helpful aspects of treatment are those which you can do for yourself:
After a meal, when the stomach is full, smoking increases the chances that you will suffer from heartburn.
Avoid becoming overweight
For many patients weight reduction is the most important remedy. Excess weight will put extra pressure on stomach and diaphragm which will contribute to heartburn.
You may find particular foods can make your symptoms worse. These might include: acidic fruit drinks, drinks which are too hot, alcohol, caffeinated or carbonated beverages, chocolate, garlic, onions, peppermint, or fatty and spicy meals. It is better to eat ‘little and often’ and to fill but do not over-fill the stomach. Food should be eaten slowly and chewed well.
Let your evening meal digest well before you go to bed. Night-time symptoms can also be reduced by keeping your head raised 6 inches off the bed (lots of pillows!) Gravity helps to keep the acid in the stomach where it belongs. Some people also find relief by sleeping on their left side.
Avoid bending from the waist or stooping just after meals. Instead, try and bend from the knees, keeping the back straight. It’s better to eat while sitting upright in a chair rather than slumped in front of the television.
Avoid tight belts and underclothes as they increase pressure on the stomach.
Pregnancy It is common for pregnant women to suffer from heartburn. By eating sensibly and keeping your weight increase within the recommended limits, you can lessen the severity of heartburn.
Thanks To Our Experts…
Dr. Robert Enns Gastroenterologist describes exactly what goes on inside the body when heartburn hits.