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Antacids are medications that increase the pH balance in your stomach. A number of symptoms, including heartburn, gastritis, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), can be treated with them. In most cases, antacids start working within a few minutes. It is important to note that they may not always be necessary, and they can have serious consequences if used improperly.
What Are Antacids?Antacids are medicines that work by increasing the pH balance in your stomach. Americans currently spend close to $1 billion per year on antacids. This is because antacids can quickly relieve the symptoms associated with occasional heartburn and indigestion. Though they cause problems for some, antacids can be taken safely by most people. Consumers who use antacids only once in a while, and as directed, are unlikely to experience significant side effects.
But antacids may not always be necessary, and they can have serious consequences if used improperly. Frequent and prolonged use can cause irreparable harm to your heart, kidneys, or bones. Even if used occasionally and in moderation, antacids can cause problems for people with special medical conditions.
How Do They Work?The opposite of an acid is a base, and that's exactly what an antacid is. Antacids make you feel better by increasing the pH balance in your stomach. The pH system is a scale for measuring the acidity or alkalinity of a given environment (in this case, your stomach). The scale goes from 0 to 14. A pH of 7 is neutral. Below 7 is acid. Above 7 is alkaline.
Normally, the acid level in your stomach is about 2 or 3. Trouble may start when your pH drops below those numbers. To make you feel better, an antacid need not bring the pH level all the way up to 7 (neutral), which would be a highly unnatural state for your stomach. In order to work, all the antacid has to do is get you to 3 or 4. It does this by neutralizing some of the excess acid.
Due to several complex factors, a base can't neutralize your acid all by itself. A base needs some chemical "helpers," or ingredients, to accompany it as it neutralizes the acid in your stomach. All antacids contain at least one of these four primary ingredients: