How to Use Antacids Properly for the Treatment of Heartburn

The proper ways to use antacids. The difference in warning signs for heart attack and heartburn or ulcers.

At least 7% of all Americans suffer from heartburn once a day. That burning feeling usually starts soon after a meal. Doctors describe this as esophageal reflux. During digestion the acid from your stomach backs up into your esophagus (the tube that connects your mouth and stomach). Your stomach is naturally used to the acid while your esophagus is not.  Before we discuss treatment, let us discuss symptoms. Symptoms can be a burning beneath the breastbone which moves upward, discomfort above the stomach, painful or difficult swallowing, regurgitation when you bend over or for no reason bringing a salty fluid into the mouth or a simply a bad taste in your mouth. You can also have chest pain which does not seem to come from the heart. Pain when coming from the heart is not helped with antacids. It is logical then so assume that if after taking antacids the heartburn and pain does not go away, it is probable that we need to seek medical help.  If this pain hits in the middle of the night or long after a meal, you need to seek medical help immediately. Know the difference!  Heartburn is not to be avoided.  If it does not go away or returns frequently, you need to consult a medical professional.

Now we will talk about the proper use of antacids. The most effective antacids which are nonprescription are in liquid form.  This type can contain aluminum (Maalox), magnesium (milk of magnesia), or calcium (Tums). The antacids containing alginic acid seem to be most effective in preventing heartburn.  When trying an antacid for the first time, always start with the lowest dosage recommended on the label.  Increase this dosage only as needed according to the directions and take every 4 to 6 hours as directed to keep acids at bay.  Your doctor may even suggest that you take an acid reducer daily and may give you a prescription for one.

 If you choose the chewable antacids, you should chew them thoroughly before swallowing them. Follow with a glass of water. If you are using calcium antacids, you should not use these for more than a few days . There are two reasons for this. Too much of this type antacid can cause an acid rebound in which your stomach is stimulated and will produce more acid. The second reason is that too much calcium can lead to the formation of kidney stones. 

Many suffering from heartburn have used baking soda to relieve the condition. It is so easy to reach for that box. Do you know what causes the bubbles in fizzing antacids (alka seltzer)? It is carbon dioxide. Did you know that baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) releases carbon dioxide? If you use baking soda, you stand a chance of acid sloshing into the esophagus.

 Is it indigestion, an ulcer or heart attack? Let's talk about the more serious, heart attack. If the pain follows a large meal, gets worse when you lie down and is relieved with antacids, it is not likely to be a heart attack. Pain from a heart attack often gets better when you lie down and gets worse when standing or exercising. Pain from a heart attack is not helped with antacids. If the pain begins while your stomach is empty but gets better when you eat, you might think ulcers. Unfortunately the symtoms from indigestion and ulcers are very similar. If you suffer for a prolonged period of time with little relief, it is time to consult a physician.

Watch out for interactions with other medications you are taking. Consult your physician first if you take medication containing tetracyclines, quinolones, digitalis and iron-containing preparations. It is recommended that if you take these drugs and antacids, you seperate the doses by one or two hours.  Unless you have gas with the indigestion, avoid antacids (Mylanta) containing simethicone. Some of the side effects of simethicone include gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea and heartburn.

We should never assume that just because a medication is over-the-counter we can take it as we choose, antacids included.  As you have just read, there are precautions to be taken.  Just as anything in life, there is a right way and a wrong way to use antacids.

It may be necessary to exclude certain foods from your diet.  Fatty foods, foods already high in acid and highly seasoned foods can be the culprit.  If you are lucky enough to know what caused your heartburn in the first place, you may want to avoid it in the future.  Your doctor may alert you to what has caused your freqent heartburn or reflux.  He may even discover that you have a hernea.  

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Dr. Johnson C Philip
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Teresa Farmer
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Donald Pennington
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