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What to Know About Antacids for Acid Reflux

Image of What to Know About Antacids for Acid Reflux
Image of What to Know About Antacids for Acid Reflux

You couldn’t help yourself—you indulged in a pasta dish that was filled with all sorts of garlic and onions, and now you’re paying for it with a serious acid reflux flare-up.

Acid reflux (also commonly referred to as gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD) occurs when your lower esophageal sphincter—the valve that separates your upper stomach from your esophagus—doesn’t work like it’s supposed to.

When this valve is weakened or malfunctions, it allows stomach acid to flow backward into your throat, resulting in a sour taste in your mouth, difficulty swallowing, and of course, a mean case of heartburn.

It’s during miserable times like these when you likely find yourself reaching for the nearest antacids to get some relief. But, have you ever wondered what exactly antacids are and how they work? You’re in luck, because we’re breaking down what you need to know about this common acid reflux treatment.

What is an antacid?

If you hear the term “antacid” and immediately think of some sort of chalky substance, you really aren’t that far off. Antacids are medications that neutralize your stomach acid to provide relief from your heartburn and other acid reflux symptoms, and that usually involves a chalky taste.

Whether you opt for a tablet or a liquid (antacids come in both forms), as the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders explains, these medications contain at least one of the following minerals:

  • Sodium bicarbonate: The main ingredient in baking soda, with a low acid-neutralizing power.
  • Aluminum hydroxide: Possesses a modest acid-neutralizing power.
  • Magnesium hydroxide: Possesses a high acid-neutralizing power.
  • Calcium carbonate: The main ingredient in chalk, with a very high acid-neutralizing power.

All of the brand name antacids you’re familiar with fall into one (or even several) of these categories. Here’s a breakdown of some of the big names you’ll recognize:

All of these antacids are available over-the-counter without a prescription.

How do antacids work to help acid reflux?

As evidenced above, the ingredients found in antacids work to neutralize stomach acid and relieve your heartburn to varying degrees.

But, how? Well, it’s time to see how much you remember from your high school chemistry class.

Antacids rely on the chemical principle of acids and bases. Acid is present in your stomach (it’s what’s causing your acid reflux symptoms).

When you add a base that contains alkali (which all antacids do), it reacts with the acid in your stomach and produces salt and water—which neutralizes (or essentially waters down) your stomach acid and reduces the severity of your symptoms.

How do you take antacids?

Antacids come in the form of tablets (like TUMS® or Rolaids®), liquid (like Maalox® or Mylanta®), or even tablets that get dissolved in liquid (like Alka-Seltzer®). Studies show that liquid antacids tend to work faster, however, many people find the tablets to be more convenient (not to mention less disgusting tasting).

In terms of timing, you should take antacids as soon as you feel heartburn coming on to neutralize your stomach acid as soon as possible. Remember that antacids rely on existing acid in your stomach and aren’t preventative, so it doesn’t pay to take one before you experience any symptoms.

Chewable tablets should be chewed entirely before swallowing. If you’re taking a liquid antacid, make sure you shake the bottle well before pouring.

Recommended dosages and other important considerations can vary based on the type of antacid you’re taking. So, review all of the directions on the product package and follow those closely.

What are the common side effects of antacids?

While antacids can provide some speedy acid reflux and heartburn relief, they aren’t without their downsides. The most common side effects include:

  • diarrhea (when taking antacids that contain magnesium)
  • constipation (when taking antacids that contain calcium or aluminum)

Other, more serious side effects like kidney stones or weak bones (osteoporosis) can occur, but they’re rare.

The U.S. National Library of Medicine also notes that antacids can change the way your body absorbs any other medicines you’re taking, so that’s something to be aware of (and potentially speak to your doctor about).

Who should take antacids?

Antacids are generally safe (and even beneficial) for adults who experience frequent heartburn and are eager to reduce the severity and discomfort of their symptoms.

Who shouldn’t take antacids?

However, that doesn’t mean antacids are recommended for everyone. Most doctors advise that children under the age of 12 stay away from antacids, as those that contain calcium carbonate can interfere with how calcium—which is important for bone growth and healthy development—is naturally absorbed by their bodies.

Can you take antacids if you’re pregnant?

According to the American Pregnancy Association, antacids containing calcium carbonate are perfectly safe to take when you’re expecting—which is good news, considering heartburn is a symptom commonly associated with pregnancy.

However, you should speak with your physician before taking any antacids that contain sodium bicarbonate.

In fact, if you’re at all concerned about whether or not antacids are the best choice for you, it’s wise to connect with your doctor. Knowledge is power, right?

When should you talk to a doctor?

Most of the time, acid reflux isn’t a cause for major concern—you’re just going to have to know your triggers and deal with some discomfort from time to time.

But, how can you know when there’s something more serious going on? The Mayo Clinic advises that you should see a doctor when:

  • Your heartburn occurs more than twice a week
  • Your symptoms persist despite using over-the-counter medications
  • You have difficulty swallowing
  • You have persistent nausea or vomiting
  • You have weight loss because of a poor appetite or difficulty eating

Also, remember that while chest pain is oftentimes related to heartburn, it can also be a sign of a heart attack. If you’re experiencing difficulty breathing or pain in the arm or jaw along with your chest discomfort, seek help immediately.

What antacids does Evens offer?

Evens currently offers generic TUMS®, a calcium carbonate antacid, to help ease your acid reflux.

Why did we choose this one specifically? It has the highest acid-neutralizing power, which means it can relieve your pesky symptoms fast. Because the last thing you want when you have heartburn is a slow-acting antacid, right? Plus, because it’s calcium carbonate, it’s safe for pregnant women, and we know that 40-85% of pregnant women suffer from acid reflux.

What are other treatment options?

It’s nice to know that you can rely on antacids to nip your heartburn in the bud. But, they aren’t the only treatment for your acid reflux—there are plenty of more preventative options, including:

  • H2 blockers: These lower the amount of acid that your stomach releases while simultaneously protecting and healing your esophageal lining. They can be taken to control symptoms you’re currently experiencing, as well as a preventative measure.
  • Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs): These medications actually block your body from producing acid while also healing and protecting your esophageal lining.
  • Lifestyle changes: Things like losing weight, eating smaller meals, and stopping smoking are good for your entire body, but they also reduce the amount of strain on your lower esophageal sphincter so your stomach acid stays where it belongs.

There are also numerous different home remedies you can try (from chewing gum to drinking ginger tea) to ease your acid reflux symptoms.

This might be more than you ever thought you’d need to learn about antacids (who knows—maybe some of these questions will pop up at your next trivia night).

But, remember, when it comes to your own health, it’s always better to be informed so you can identify the best treatment options for you.

Oh, and when in doubt? Just skip that garlic and onion-filled pasta dish next time. We know it’s delicious, but it’s probably not worth the misery...or honestly, that breath.

The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely upon the content provided in this article for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.