Otc Antacids Or Acid Reducers: What You Should Know

High acidity or acid-peptic disease is one of the most common non-fatal ailments that humanity faces. Given the frequency of the need of using antacids or acid-reducers, and their relative safety even when used without prescription, they are often available as over-the-counter medicines. However, it is still important to be aware of what they are and when to use them.  
OTC Antacids or Acid Reducers: What You Should Know
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Over the counter acid reducers are the most commonly used drugs by mankind. While being reasonably safe, they are often a source of misuse or excessive use. Being aware of what these medicines are, how they act and what are their side effects, can enable more informed decisions about using them, and also suggest when to stop their self medication.


OTC ANTACIDS or ACID REDUCERS are one of the most common non prescription medicines used in the world. In fact, you should consider yourself extremely lucky if you never had an occasion to use them yourself.

What Antacids or Acid Reducers Do


Antacids as well as other acid reducers counter excess acidity in the stomach and the upper part of small intestines (duodenum). Excess acidity of stomach leads to some of the most common diseases of humanity like gastritis, peptic ulcer, esophageal reflux and gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD). That should be enough incentive to know about the medicines which can prevent or provide relief from these diseases by reducing acidity in stomach.

What are Acid Reducers

The medicines used to treat excess acid in stomach belong to three different categories - Antacids, H2 receptor blockers and proton pump inhibitors.

(i) ANTACIDS - These are substances which directly neutralize acid inside the stomach. They are bicarbonate or carbonate salts of Aluminum, Magnesium or Calcium, something similar to chalk, which absorbs the acid. They are often mixed with substances like Simethicone, which provide relief from gas, and are generally available in the form of chewable tablets. In case of moderate acidity, 2 to 4 tablets can be taken by chewing them.

Antacids are preferable when the problem is sudden and immediate relief is required.

(ii) H2 RECEPTOR BLOCKERS - These are medicines like RANITIDINE and FAMOTIDINE, which work by blocking the production of acid in stomach. These are available in the form of small tablets, which need to be taken once in morning and once in the evening. They take some time to show results and hence may not be the best treatment for sudden problems for which antacids are a preferable option.

They are most effective in cases where there are prolonged problems which are not very severe in intensity, like GERD and chronic gastritis. Because of this feature, Ranitidine, also available by the brand name of Zantac, Rantac or Aciloc is one of the most commonly prescribed medicines in the world. One characteristic feature of these medicines is that they are very effective in reducing the excess acid secretion in stomach but do not bring it below the normal level.

(iii) PROTON PUMP INHIBITORS - These prevent the acid secretion by blocking the acidification of stomach. Their effect is stronger than H2 blockers, but they can reduce the acid level in stomach to below normal levels - not a commonly desirable effect.

Because of their stronger action, they

are used in conditions which are either more severe, like peptic ulcer wherein even small quantities of acid can hurt, or when antacids and H2 blockers are unable to solve the problem.

How Safe is it to Use Acid Reducers without Prescription

One good feature of all the three groups is the safety in their short term use. However, that does not mean that they are absolutely safe. Antacids contain metals like Aluminium which if taken in larger quantities can cause toxicity. H2 blockers are safer, and can be used for longer periods. Proton pump inhibitors need to be taken with greater care because its excessive doses can create another problem by reducing the acid in stomach to abnormally low levels, which may give rise to new problems. All of them can interfere with the absorption and effects of other medicines, a fact that should be remembered and shared with one's physician in case of some other ailment.

Risks of Self Medication with Acid Reducers

Excess acid, or acidity is a very common occurrence and all antacids and acid-reducers are extremely helpful in tackling this problem, but using them without proper medical check-up and expert medical advice carries some risks which should also be fully appreciated. The greatest danger of casual medication is the likelihood of missing a more serious disease while presuming it to be simple heartburn or acidity. Cases of mild heart attack are sometimes missed because of this blunder, which can even become life threatening. Other diseases like ulcers and cancers may also be mistaken as acidity and their diagnosis and proper treatment may get delayed by attempts of casual self medication.

Why One Needs to be Aware

This does not mean that one need not know about these medicines. On the contrary, a reasonable knowledge about them is an essential tool in the long term management of acid related disorders. Most of these disorders are recurrent, keep coming back and may last for long periods. It is preferable to get them properly investigated by the physician in the first instance, and once the diagnosis is established and other diseases ruled out, then antacids and acid-reducers can be used more confidently. With simple precautions, knowledge about acid-reducers can help one tackle the menace of acidity effectively.

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