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Are antacids safe for long-term use?

If you experience heartburn or chest pain and find yourself popping antacids more than two or three times a week, it is time to see your doctor. While antacids may relieve your symptoms, they won’t fix the root of the problem if you have an underlying health condition.

“First and foremost, it is very important for anyone experiencing any type of chest pain to talk with his or her physician prior to self-medicating to ensure symptoms are not a result of heart disease,” says Jay Prakash, M.D., a Piedmont gastroenterologist. “Symptoms of heartburn can be similar in nature to those of a heart attack. Therefore, it is extremely important to be evaluated by your doctor.”

The difference between antacids and acid reducers

Antacids neutralize stomach acid. Stomach acid helps the body break down and digest food, so it’s a good thing, but too much can cause uncomfortable symptoms. Depending on which brand you select, different antacid ingredients provide different benefits:

  • Alginic acid creates a foaming effect in the top of the stomach that helps prevent stomach acid from reaching the esophagus.

  • Simethicone decreases bubbles of gas in the stomach.

On the other hand, acid reducers decrease – rather than neutralize – the amount of stomach acid the body produces.

While both types of medication can be safe for long-term use, it is crucial to talk with your physician before taking them for more than two weeks. You need to get to the root of the problem to ensure you don’t have a serious health condition masking itself as indigestion.

Also, these medications can create complications if you have liver or kidney issues, and they can contain sodium, which may be problematic if you’re on a low-salt diet.

Three ways to prevent heartburn and reflux

Once you have been diagnosed with heartburn or acid reflux and not something more serious, Dr. Prakash recommends the following tips for reducing acid in your digestive tract.

  • Watch your diet. The most common acid-inducing foods include mint, caffeine, onions, garlic, tomatoes, citrus fruits, spicy foods and alcohol. However, people respond differently, so keeping a food journal can be helpful in determining your triggers.

  • Do not go to be bed within three hours of eating a meal. Acid in the stomach is generated within one hour of eating, so it is best not to lie down immediately following a meal. Let your body digest your food for two to three hours before lying down.

  • Do not wear clothing that constricts the abdomen. Tight clothing around the waist can put added upward pressure on the stomach, causing acid to back up into the esophagus.

“Bottom line, it is okay to take antacids once in a blue moon, but your goal should always be to make sure you are doing well, your esophagus is healing well and there is no underlying heart disease,” says Dr. Prakash.

Learn more about digestive health.

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