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When Do You Need an Antacid?

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Updated June 17, 2014

Sick man taking antacid
Paul Bradbury/OJO Images/Getty Images

You know the feeling: Faced with many of your favorite dishes and beverages, you overindulged. Now you facing the consequences. Heartburn.

Perhaps prompted by television ads about their effectiveness, or the advice of a friend, you reach for an over-the-counter antacid. But is this the best way to handle your heartburn?

When used properly, antacids are useful in relieving the occasional heartburn and indigestion. The active ingredient in antacids neutralizes stomach acid, which is what is causing the pain. However, it is much better if you prevent the heartburn from occuring in the first place, rather than treating the heartburn after it happens.

There are some simple steps you can take that may help prevent heartburn. You can make changes in your lifestyle habits that will keep heartburn from happening. Such as:

  • Don't eat big meals.
  • After you eat, don't lie down right away.
  • Cut down on caffeine.
  • Sleep with your head and shoulders propped up six to eight inches.
For a more detailed explanation of these and other lifestyle changes, you can read this article on lifestyle changes to prevent heartburn.

If you do take an antacid, it should be used only for occasional relief of mild heartburn or indigestion. If you're taking antacids for longer than two weeks, then the heartburn may be caused by a more serious medical problem. It is important that you consult your doctor for a further evaluation. You should see your doctor even sooner if you're experiencing any symptoms severe enough to interfere with your lifestyle. If you experience any of the following symptoms, you should call your doctor:

  • Your heartburn presists or becomes more severe.

  • Your heartburn isn't relieved by medication.

  • Your heartburn interfers with your ability to fall asleep or it wakes you at night.

  • Your discomfort interferes with your lifestyle or daily activities

  • You have difficulty swallowing or have pain when swallowing.

  • You have the sensation of food caught in your chest or throat.

  • Pain in the neck, chest or back.

  • Your heartburn is causing you to vomit.

  • You vomit blood or have black stools (from digested blood).

  • You have excessive saliva.

  • You've experienced a drastic weight loss.

  • You have persistent hoarseness or sore throat.

  • You have episodes of choking, coughing or wheezing.

If lifestyle changes don't entirely prevent the heartburn, your doctor may suggest using an antacid. If symptoms persist, your doctor can prescribe a different form of treatment, such as proton pump inhibitors. If at any time you have questions about your treatment, or the effectiveness of that treatment, please consult with your doctor.

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Examples of Antacids

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Sources:
Cramer, Tom. "A Burning Question: When Do You Need an Antacid?." Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 6 Dec 2006

  1. About.com
  2. Health
  3. Heartburn / GERD
  4. Meds / Remedies
  5. Antacids
  6. When Do You Need an Antacid for Heartburn Treatment?

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