The stomach secretes hydrochloric acid for digestion of food. Sometimes overindulgence or emotional stress lead to a condition called hyperacidity. Antacids are used to treat this condition for which a no of brands of antacids are available, many of which are aggressively advertised. Despite the variety of brand names, antacids contain only a few different ingredients. Sodium bicarbonate, Calcium carbonate, Aluminum hydroxide, Magnesium carbonate and Magnesium hydroxide are typical components.
Sodium bicarbonate, commonly called baking soda, is an old standby antacid. It is safe and effective for occasional use by most people, but it is not recommended to those with hypertension (high blood pressure) because high concentrations of sodium-ions tend to aggravate the condition further. Some sodium bicarbonate containing antacids also contain citric acid and aspirin. When they are placed in water, the reaction of bicarbonate ions with hydronium ions from the acid produces the familiar fizz due to liberation of carbon dioxide. Such antacids may be dangerous because the aspirin is harmful to people with ulcers and other stomach disorders.
Calcium carbonate, commonly called precipitated chalk, is another common antacid ingredient. It is safe in small doses, but regular use can cause constipation. It can also cause increased acid secretion after a few hours. Thus temporary relief may be achieved at the expense of a worse problem later. Aluminum hydroxide is also an antacid ingredient which occurs in combination in may popular products. But there are two draw backs with its use, firstly like calcium carbonate it can cause constipation in large doses and secondly aluminum ions deplete the body of essential phosphate ions by forming insoluble aluminum phosphate which is excreted from the body. Moreover aluminum ions are reported to be toxic also.
Magnesium compounds constitute yet another category of antacids. These include magnesium carbonate and magnesium hydroxide. Milk of magnesia is suspension of magnesium hydroxide in water. It is sold under a variety of brand names. In small doses, magnesium compounds act as antacids. But in large doses, they act as laxatives as magnesium ions are not only poorly absorbed in the digestive tract but also these small di-positive ions draw water into the colon causing the laxative effect. This is the reason that variety of popular antacids combines aluminum hydroxide with its tendency to cause constipation with a magnesium compound in order to counteract its laxative effect.
Above all antacids may interact with other medications. As such any one taking any other type of medication should consult a qualified and genuine physician before taking antacids. It is to be remembered that antacids are safe and effective for occasional uses only and that too in small doses. Undoubtedly if a person is otherwise in good health he/she may go for a product of choice but those with severe or repeated attacks of indigestion must avoid self medication as it might be both blundering as well as deadly dangerous for them in respect of its consequences. In any case indiscriminate and frequent uses of antacids are not advisable.
Antacids differ in how quickly they work and how long they provide relief. Those that dissolve rapidly in the stomach, such as magnesium hydroxide and sodium bicarbonate, bring the fastest relief. Antacids that contain calcium carbonate or aluminum dissolve more slowly and can take up to 30 minutes to begin working. The longer an antacid stays in the stomach, the longer it works. Those that contain calcium carbonate or aluminum work longer than those that contain sodium bicarbonate or magnesium. Also, taking any kind of antacid after a meal, instead of on an empty stomach provides longer-lasting relief because the medicine stays in the stomach.
Though many brands of antacid products and generic forms can be bought without a prescription and come in tablet (regular and chewable), lozenge, and liquid forms, antacids are meant to be used only occasionally. They 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. Older people should be especially careful, as they may have ulcers without showing the typical symptoms.
If any signs of appendicitis or inflamed bowel are present, antacids should not be taken. Symptoms of appendicitis include cramping, pain, and soreness in the lower abdomen, bloating, and nausea and vomiting. Anyone whose symptoms do not improve after taking antacids or who has black, tarry stools should call a physician. These symptoms could be signs of a serious condition that needs medical attention. When an antacid interacts with some other medicines the effects of one or both drugs may change, or the risk of side effects may be greater. Antacids may also affect the results of some medical tests. When scheduling a medical test, one must ask whether it is all right to take antacids before the test.
Side effects are very rare when antacids are taken as directed. They are more likely when the medicine is taken in large doses or over a long time. Minor side effects include a chalky taste, mild constipation or diarrhea, thirst, stomach cramps, and whitish or speckled stools. These symptoms do not need medical attention unless they do not go away or they interfere with normal activities. Other uncommon side effects may occur. Anyone who has unusual symptoms after taking antacids should get in touch with his or her physician.