Antacids are medicines that neutralize stomach acid. They are used to relieveacid indigestion, upset stomach, sour stomach, and heartburn.

Antacids are taken by mouth and work by neutralizing excess stomach acid. They contain ingredients such as aluminum hydroxide, calcium carbonate, magnesium hydroxide, and sodium bicarbonate, alone or in various combinations. Antacid products may also contain other ingredients such as simethicone, which relieves gas.

Antacids differ in how quickly they work and how long they provide relief. Those that dissolve rapidly in the stomach, such as magnesium hydroxide and sodium bicarbonate, bring the fastest relief. Antacids that contain calcium carbonate or aluminum dissolve more slowly and can take up to 30 minutes to beginworking. The longer an antacid stays in the stomach, the longer it works. Those that contain calcium carbonate or aluminum work longer than those that contain sodium bicarbonate or magnesium. Also, taking any kind of antacid aftera meal, instead of on an empty stomach, provides longer-lasting relief because the medicine stays in the stomach.

Among the brands of antacid products on the market are Alka-Seltzer, Maalox,Mylanta, Tums, and Rolaids. Generic forms are also available. These productscan be bought without a prescription and come in tablet (regular and chewable), lozenge, and liquid forms.

Antacids are meant to be used only occasionally. They should not be taken continuously for more than two weeks unless under a physician's directions. Taking antacids over long periods could mask the symptoms of a serious stomach orintestinal problem, such as peptic ulcer disease. Older people should be especially careful, as they may have ulcers without showing the typical symptoms.

If any signs of appendicitis or inflamed bowel are present, antacids should not be taken. Symptoms of appendicitis include cramping, pain, and soreness inthe lower abdomen, bloating, and nausea and vomiting.

Anyone whose symptoms do not improve after taking antacids or who has black,tarry stools should call a physician. These symptoms could be signs of a serious condition that needs medical attention.

Antacids may interact with many other medicines. When this happens, the effects of one or both drugs may change, or the risk of side effects may be greater. Anyone taking a prescription drug should check with his or her physician before taking antacids. Antacids may affect the results of some medical tests.When scheduling a medical test, ask whether it is all right to take antacidsbefore the test.

Side effects are very rare when antacids are taken as directed. They are morelikely when the medicine is taken in large doses or over a long time. Minorside effects include a chalky taste, mild constipation or diarrhea, thirst, stomach cramps, and whitish or speckled stools. These symptoms do not need medical attention unless they do not go away or they interfere with normal activities.

Other uncommon side effects may occur. Anyone who has unusual symptoms aftertaking antacids should get in touch with his or her physician.

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