Are Antacids the Best Way to Treat Heartburn?

To suppress heartburn, some people take bicarbonate of soda (baking soda). Bicarbonate neutralizes acid in the stomach temporarily, and, by creating carbon dioxide gas, provides enough gas to permit belching. But if you must restrict your intake of salt or sodium because of problems such as high blood pressure, a heart condition or fluid-retention, choose a low-sodium antacid instead.

Liquid antacids

Liquid antacids, although not always the most convenient, can help to wash the acid back to where it belongs and are usually more effective than the chewable variety, which should be chewed very thoroughly. About a tablespoon of a liquid antacid is as effective as three tablets of the same antacid. Whether liquid or tablet, most non-prescription antacids have a combination of ingredients, including sodium bicarbonate, calcium carbonate, aluminium hydroxide and magnesium hydroxide.

Antacids are best taken between meals, at bedtime and at least an hour before or after taking other medications. Some antacids can cause occasional side effects, such as diarrhoea, consti-pation, altered calcium metabolism and magnesium retention.

Chronic use of antacids

Chronic use of antacids containing aluminium compounds may seriously deplete your body and bone structure of calcium; aluminium interferes with the absorption of fluoride and can contribute to skeletal demineralization.

Antacids combined with a foaming agent such as alginic acid may be helpful. These compounds are believed to form a foam barrier on the top of the gastric pool.

To relieve pregnancy related heartburn, eating small meals more frequently is often helpful. Doctors sometimes prescribe antacids that promote renewal of acid damaged tissue, but not medicines that work by entering the system to suppress acid production. If it becomes necessary to use non-prescription antacids for longer than three weeks, see your doctor.

Burning symptoms

If the burning symptoms persist or the pain is very severe, you have difficulty swallowing and your healthy food seems to stick in your chest, or if the chest pain doesn’t fit heartburn’s description, you should consult your physician. Heartburn more than three or four times a week can cause inflammation, scarring and constriction of the oesophagus, and may even eventually make conditions conducive to cancer, or you could have symptoms of a peptic ulcer.

For serious heartburn, some doctors prescribe drugs such as ranitidine and cimetidine which work by suppressing the gastric acid secretion instead of neutralizing it. Or the doctor can increase pressure of the oesophageal sphincter with drugs such as bethanechol or metoclopramide, or perform surgery to strengthen the sphincter.

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