Antacids: Effect, types & side effects of medications

Acid reflux, commonly known as ‘heartburn’ or ‘gastroesophageal reflux’ appears when stomach acid flows into the esophagus and stays there long enough to damage the lining. The patient therefore experiences a burning sensation in the center of the chest, a sour taste in the mouth and/or a burning sensation in the throat for up to several hours. Various medications provide fast-acting or long-term pain relief. Sometimes the doctor uses a combination treatment. Some antacids are available over the counter while others are available with a doctor’s prescription. Usually the dose or strength is lower with over-the-counter antacids than with the medications the doctor prescribes. Finally, side effects are possible with any medication.

  • Treating heartburn (acid reflux)
  • Lifestyle
  • Medication
  • Operation
  • Over-the-counter and prescription antacids
  • Contact the doctor
  • Combination medications for gastroesophageal reflux
  • Antacids
  • H2 receptor blockers (H2 antagonists, H2 blockers)
  • Prokinetics
  • Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs)


Treating heartburn (acid reflux)

Doctors want to relieve pain and other symptoms, allow the esophagus to heal, and prevent future episodes of heartburn and damage.

Patients with heartburn should stop smoking / Source: Geralt, Pixabay


The doctor may suggest lifestyle adjustments such as:

  • avoiding alcohol and tobacco products (not smoking)
  • maintain a healthy weight
  • do not drink carbonated drinks
  • eat slowly and also eat small meals
  • wear looser clothes
  • sleep or lie down with your head held high
  • do not eat two to three hours before bedtime
  • Avoid foods that worsen the condition



Various over-the-counter and prescription medications (antacids) also reduce the signs of acid reflux. Some examples include antacids, H2 receptor blockers, prokinetics and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs).


In some severe cases, surgery is required to relieve patients of acid reflux. The patient has usually already tried various medications and made lifestyle adjustments.

Over-the-counter and prescription antacids

Antacids are available both over the counter and with a doctor’s prescription. Most over-the-counter antacids are not intended to be taken daily for long periods of time. However, the doctor may prescribe medication with a higher dose and strength. The higher dose can help with the recovery of the esophageal wall.

Contact the doctor

If an over-the-counter antacid does not relieve all symptoms after two weeks, it is important that the patient contacts his doctor about this so that the doctor can look for the most suitable medicine or combination treatment. Also, if heartburn occurs frequently (more than twice a week) and/or is severe in nature, or if the patient already suffers from an underlying medical condition, it is important to take this up with a doctor.
Finally, a doctor’s advice is necessary when one or more of the following alarm symptoms appear:

  • vomiting blood
  • bloody stools or black stools
  • unintentional weight loss
  • pain when swallowing
  • swallowing problems (dysphagia)


Combination medications for gastroesophageal reflux

Sometimes a combination of medications is needed to effectively treat acid reflux. Antacids, PPIs and H2 receptor blockers all work in different ways. Sometimes the doctor prescribes a combination of medications to control the symptoms. The doctor must always be aware of the patient’s medication use and medical history in order to prescribe the correct antacid(s).


Antacids neutralize a patient’s stomach acid. The antacids relieve symptoms for a few hours. However, they do not treat the underlying cause of acid reflux and therefore long-term use is not recommended.
Some examples of antacids are aluminum hydroxide, calcium carbonate, magnesium trisilicate and sodium bicarbonate. For a pregnant woman, antacids containing aluminum salts are safe to use.
Side effects
For all, long-term use of these medications is more likely to cause side effects.
Aluminum hydroxide
The long-term use of antacids containing aluminum hydroxide increases the risk of toxicity (toxicity) in infants and patients with renal failure. Known side effects are:

  • anemia
  • vomit
  • abdominal cramps
  • constipation
  • a magnesium deficiency (hypomagnesemia)
  • fecal impaction (stuck dry and hard lump of stool)
  • nausea


the long-term use of calcium carbonate may lead to headaches / Source: Geralt, Pixabay

Calcium carbonate
Chronic use of calcium carbonate may result in:

  • vomit
  • stomach ache
  • constipation
  • a dry mouth
  • headache
  • nausea
  • flatulence


H2 receptor blockers (H2 antagonists, H2 blockers)

medication that the doctor uses to treat stomach ulcers, but also to reduce the signs of gastroesophageal reflux. The body absorbs H2 blockers quickly, which suppresses stomach acid for several hours. H2 receptors block histamine type 2 receptors in the stomach. This slows down or reduces the amount of stomach acid produced. H2 blockers improve the symptoms of heartburn and restore the esophageal lining, although a higher dose is sometimes required.
Well-known H2 receptor blockers include cimetidine (Tagamet), famotidine (Pepcid), nizatidine (Axid) and ranitidine (Zantac).

H2 receptor blockers may cause drowsiness / Source: Unsplash, Pixabay

Side effects
Some possible side effects of H2 blockers are:

  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • headache
  • drowsiness
  • muscle strain
  • fatigue



How they work
: Prokinetics are medications that help the stomach process food faster.
Some examples are metoclopramide, domperidone and erythromycin. Although the medicines are generally safe, it is important that the doctor is aware of the patient’s medication use because the medicines do not always interact well with other medicines.

A possible side effect of prokinetics is fatigue / Source: Concord90, Pixabay

Side effects
In addition, side effects may occur such as:

  • diarrhea
  • a depression
  • nausea
  • fatigue
  • strange physical movements


Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs)

How it works:
Proton pump inhibitors are a type of medication that reduces the amount of stomach acid. They also heal the esophageal wall.
Some examples of PPIs are esomeprazole, lansoprazole, omeprazole, pantoprazole and rabeprazole.
Side effects
The medications are generally safe and effective for long-term use, but side effects sometimes occur, such as :

  • stomach ache
  • dementia
  • diarrhea
  • a chronic kidney disease
  • a magnesium deficiency
  • a bloated feeling
  • an increased risk of bacterial gastroenteritis (intestinal inflammation)
  • an increased risk of bacterial infection in the small intestine
  • an increased risk of bone fractures due to osteoporosis (loss of bone mass)
  • an increased risk of pneumonia
  • an increased risk of gastric polyps (benign growths on the stomach lining)
  • reduced mobility of the gallbladder
  • a vitamin B12 deficiency
  • headache
  • nausea


read more

  • Burning sensation in stomach: Causes of burning stomach
  • Gastroesophageal reflux: Symptoms of heartburn
  • Antacids (antacids): Medication for heartburn (reflux)
  • Proton pump inhibitors: Medications that reduce stomach acid
  • Stomach Pain: Causes of Pain in Stomach (Sore Stomach)
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