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Antacids: how do you spell relief?

Antacids: how do you spell relief? Millions of us take antacid tables and seltzer tablets for ailments we call heartburn or acid indigestion. Over-the-counter antacids are so popular because most are effective, fast-working, and easy to use--neutralizing stomach acid and inhibiting the action of pepsin, a potentially irritating digestive enzyme.

All antacids are safe when used occasionally by healthy people. But, as we've reported, no over-the-counter medication is without its risks. Daily use of antacids can mask a serious problem, such as a peptic ulcer. In extreme cases, the "heartburn" may actually be an incipient heart attack. Taken irregularly without a doctor's supervision, antacids may cause bowel irregularities (constipation or diarrhea), aggravate kidney disorders, and cause other problems. And prolonged use can actually cause an increase in the production of stomach acid if you suddenly stop taking the antacids--this is called acid rebound.

Nine tips for effective antacid use

* Try to eliminate the cause of frequent heartburn or upset stomach (excess fatty food, alcohol, stress) instead of making antacid use a part of your daily life--see box at right.

* Use antacids only occasionally for indigestion or heartburn. If symptoms persist despite antacid use, see your doctor.

* Liquid types generally neutralize acid more effectively than tablets. Chew tablets thoroughly to help them dissolve quickly in the stomach--and drink some water after swallowing them.

* If one brand doesn't work well, try another. Some formulations are more potent than others.

* Antacids may interfere with the absorption of many drugs (such as antibiotics, digitalis, and anticoagulants). If you take prescription medication, consult your pharmacist or doctor before using antacids.

* If you are on a salt-restricted diet, avoid sodium bicarbonate antacids, which contain whopping doses of sodium.

* Seek medical help immediately if your "heartburn" is severe and accompanied by chest pain, nausea, vomiting, weakness, breathlessness, fainting, and/or sweating. If may be a heart attack.

* Pregnant women and people with ulcers or kidney problems should consult a physician before using any antacid.

* If you are using antacids only to increase your calcium consumption, take doses yielding no more than 1,000 to 1,500 milligrams of calcium a day--and avoid aluminum-based antacids, which can actually deplete calcium.

Comparing antacid types

Sodium bicarbonate (such as Alka-Seltzer, Bromo Seltzer, and Brioschi). Baking soda, usually in effervescent form. For short-term use only: frequent use may interfere with kidney or heart function, promote urinary tract infection, and disrupt the body's acid balance. Very high sodium content. Brands containing aspirin can upset stomach and aggravate ulcers.

Calcium carbonate (such as Tums, Alka-2, and Titralac). A tablet containing 500 milligrams of calcium carbonate provides 200 milligrams of calcium, which is 20% of the U.S.RDA. Limit dosage according to instructions. May cause constipation.

Aluminum compounds (such as Amphojel and Alternagel). Less potent and slower acting than other types. Some types may promote calcium (or phosphorus) depletion and are not recomended for those with high calcium needs, such as postmenopausal women. People with kidney problems should check with their doctors before using. May cause constipation.

Magnesium compounds (such a Philip's Milk of Magnesia). May cause diarrhea.

Aluminum-magnesium compounds (such as Maalox, Digel, Mylanta, Riopan, and Gaviscon). May have the same side effects as either aluminum or magnesium compounds in some people, but generally less likely to cause constipation or diarrhea. Some brands add simethicone, which is supposed to reduce gas (or at least reduced the size of gas bubbles), but which has never been proven to provide relief.

Antacids are also available as generic products.
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Title Annotation:includes information on preventing heartburn
Publication:The University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter
Date:May 1, 1991
Previous Article:A Chinese lesson.
Next Article:Preventive care: from self-care to lab tests.

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