Antacids are a broad category of over-thecounter medications that are used to treat a variety of ailments including heartburn, indigestion, gas and reflux. In general, when used on occasion, these medications are usually safe. However, excessive use can result in unforeseen consequences.
A change in your bowel habits is often the most common side-effect of excessive antacid use. Several antacids contain magnesium as an ingredient, which can result in significant diarrhea when taken in excess. On the other hand, those antacids containing aluminum can result in constipation. Mineral ingredients contained in antacids can lead to upsetting the functioning in your body’s normal levels. Repeatedly taking antacids containing calcium carbonate can lead to significant damage to your kidneys (milk-alkali syndrome). In addition, these calcium containing products initially neutralize stomach acid, but can stimulate increased acid production overall.
Many of these antacids can interact with prescription medications. The antacid may decrease the absorption and efficacy of certain drugs, or alternatively, increase the absorption and toxicity of other medications. In fact, some medications, like the antibiotic, tetracycline, can be “locked” by the antacids, rendering them useless altogether. It is crucial that you discuss all the over-thecounter medications and herbal products that you are taking with your physician.
Most importantly, the need to take excessive amounts of antacids may reflect a more serious condition. With enough antacids the pain from peptic ulcer disease and even possibly stomach cancer may be masked, thereby delaying the diagnosis. If your gastrointestinal complaints are significant enough to warrant taking too many antacids, seek evaluation by your physician or a gastroenterologist (a doctor that specializes in disorders of the digestive system).