If you or a family member occasionally suffers from heartburn or acid indigestion, antacids may offer temporary relief. For more frequent issues, consider acid reducers like ranitidine or omeprazole. It’s important to see your doctor if symptoms persist, as they could be early warning signs of a more serious condition.
Keep the following in mind as you consider the right antacids and acid reducers for you:
Reduced stomach acidity may result in an impaired ability to digest and absorb certain nutrients, such as iron, magnesium, and B vitamins.
Since stomach acidity normally kills ingested bacteria, antacids and acid reducers may increase your vulnerability to infection.
They may also change how you absorb certain medications, so use carefully and talk with your doctor if you have concerns.
What they are: Antacids are chewable tablets, effervescent drink powders, liquids, and syrups containing one or multiple active ingredients shown to temporarily neutralize stomach acid and treat the symptoms of heartburn.
Sodium bicarbonate, also known as baking soda. Some antacids combine it with alginic acid, a gelling agent, to create a barrier which prevents stomach acid from refluxing back up into the esophagus. Effervescent formulas with aspirin provide added pain relief.
Calcium carbonate, typically found in chewable tablets.
Aluminum hydroxide and/or magnesium hydroxide, usually found in gel or liquid form.
Why to buy: Antacids may provide immediate, temporary relief (1 to 2 hours) from minor symptoms of heart burn and indigestion.
Things to consider: Minor side effects include diarrhea, constipation, and flatulence. Generally, medications containing aluminum or calcium are likeliest to cause constipation; those containing magnesium are likeliest to cause diarrhea. Some products combine these ingredients in order to help prevent unpleasant side effects. Consuming excess calcium carbonate can be hazardous, so read labels carefully.
Acid Reducers/H2 Blockers
What they are: H2 receptor antagonists, or “blockers,” are used to decrease stomach acid by preventing histamine from stimulating acid production. There are four FDA-approved variations—cimetidine, ranitidine, famotidine, and nizatidine—all available over the counter.
Why to buy: H2 blockers are an effective and well-tolerated treatment for heartburn and indigestion. Many can be taken before meals to prevent heartburn, and effects last longer than antacids.
Things to consider: Cimetidine has the most instances of adverse reactions in this drug class, including headache and dizziness. Cimetidine interacts negatively with many other medications, so read labels and talk with your doctor or pharmacist.
Proton-Pump Inhibitors (PPIs)
What they are: PPIs are the most potent and effective treatments available for frequent heartburn and indigestion. Available by prescription and over the counter, omeprazole and lansoprazole are the most common active ingredients.
Why to buy: PPIs offer effective, long-lasting treatment of acid indigestion, heartburn, and ulcers by significantly reducing stomach acid production with few side effects. Most PPIs do not provide immediate relief, but take hours or days to become effective and are taken for weeks at a time. If you need both immediate and long-lasting results, look for combination products with an antacid and acid reducer.
Things to consider: Acid reducers are not meant for long-term use. The FDA advises that no more than three 14-day treatment courses be used in one year unless directed by a doctor. Side effects may include headache, nausea, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fatigue, and dizziness. High-dose or long-term PPI use may lead to increased risk of bone fractures, and decreased vitamin B12 absorption, potentially leading to vitamin B12 deficiency.