Antacids are widely prescribed in medical practice and are also used as over-the-counter products. Hence it is more likely that people overuse antacids without knowing the possible harm that excessive consumption of antacids can cause. It is necessary to know about the common side effects of overusing antacids and ways to avoid them. The excessive intake of antacids can result in some side effects like kidney problems, constipation, muscle cramps, ketones and osteoporosis.
What are Antacids?
Antacid, an opposite of term `acid` is an alkali which is used to inhibit the production of acid in the body. People who have severe acid production like acid reflux syndrome or other hyperacidity related issues, often take antacids regularly. The antacids cease the production of acid in the stomach and regulate the digestion.
While normal acid secretion is essential for proper digestion, excess acid can cause harm. People with acid reflux problems have excess acid secretion, which means the pH of blood decreases. In such cases, it is necessary to control the acid levels and antacids play an important role in raising the pH balance in stomach, thus controlling excess acid. Hence, antacids are used in treatment of reflux disease, disorders of the esophagus, gastritis, peptic ulcers and others. People may overuse antacids in cases of indigestion, heartburn and other digestive problems, which often increases their risk for common side effects of overusing antacids.
There are four main types of antacids depending on their active ingredients.
- Aluminum containing antacids
- The calcium antacids
- Magnesium contained antacids
- Sodium bicarbonate antacids
What are the Common Side Effects of Overusing Antacids?
Every antacid has different type of ingredients but some are common and every ingredient has their own effect. To understand the common side effects of overusing antacids, it is important to know the side effects of the ingredients used in them.
Ingredients of Antacids & Their Side Effects:
These ingredients are mainly responsible for side effects of overusing antacids. Some of these are:
- Calcium Carbonate – One of the common side effect of this ingredient is constipation. Although it is used to treat acid production it can lead to constipation and may cause more problem later on.
- Aluminum Hydroxide - It can also lead to constipation. One must refrain from taking antacids if one has kidney problems. It may reduce phosphates in the blood for further energy. Aluminum is considered as a factor for Alzheimer`s disease, which is a neurological disease.
- Magnesium Hydroxide and Oxide - With this ingredient, diarrhea is one of the possible side effects. One is advised not to take if one has kidney problems.
- Sodium Bicarbonate - It can change the salts in the blood changing the chemistry. This ingredient however doesn't lead to kidney problems.
- Bismuth Salts - It can cause encephalopathy which is severe disease of the brain and most commonly known as dementia. This ingredient has the most severe side effects.
Common Side Effects of Overusing Antacids
Based on the side effects of the ingredients, here are some of the common side effects of overusing antacids.
Constipation - It is the most common side effect of overusing antacids. There are mainly two types of antacids, aluminum based and calcium based, both of which lead to constipation. The overuse of antacids for prolonged period can lead to chronic constipation.
Diarrhea - Magnesium hydroxide and oxide ingredient antacid generally leads to diarrhea in people. Hence, diarrhea is another common side effect of overusing antacids. However, this condition of diarrhea doesn't last long and is short lived and may relieve if the medicine is stopped.
Muscle Pain and Cramps - Overusing antacids can lead to twitching in the muscles and cramps. It occurs mainly due to the imbalance of the electrolytes in the body that leads to these muscle pains. The electrolytes such as calcium, sodium, magnesium and phosphate lead to muscle pain and cramps, which too is a common side effect of overusing antacids.
Kidney Stones – Antacids, which contain calcium also increase the calcium output in the urine. It may lead to formation of stones in kidney. One of the most severe and common side effects of antacids is the formation of kidney stones. A kidney stone is a hard and crystalline mineral formed and embedded within the kidney or urinary tract. The symptoms of kidney stones include blood in urine) also known as hematuria) and the flank pain. It obstructs the passage of urine which leads to very severe condition in the body and is intensely painful.
Osteoporosis – One of the major side effects of overusing antacids is the increased risk of osteoporosis. Antacids containing mainly aluminum can weaken the bones as it can flush out vital salts like calcium and phosphate from the body. It is also worse for those who have kidney disease.
Associated Side Effects of Overusing Antacids
Apart from the above mentioned side effects, there are also other associated side effects of overusing antacids. These include:
- Poor digestion, which leads to allergies, bloating, cramps.
- Loose watery stools and diarrhea when the food particles ferment and start drawing extra fluids into the large intestines.
- Increased risk of food allergies
- An impaired function of kidneys because the kidneys process the minerals ingredients of the antacids and which eventually leads to kidney stones
- One of the common side effect of overusing antacids is the decreased absorption of the nutrients such as folic acid, vitamin c, calcium, magnesium and zinc also. Decreased absorption of vitamin B12 and folic acid, leading to nutritional deficiencies and other problems, has been one of the severe and most common side effects of overusing antacids.
- The risk of formation of rickets (osteomalacia in adults) is also one of the biggest potential problems and a common side effect of overusing antacids. It leads to thinning and weakness of bones in the body, making them fragile and at risk of fractures.
How to Avoid Common Side Effects of Overusing Antacids?
It is best to seek medical opinion for your problems rather than trying out over-the-counter products without knowing their dose and duration of use. The physician will prescribe antacids only when required and in the right dosage, hence medical advice is important. Also, it is necessary to check for any possible allergies to magnesium hydroxide, aluminum hydroxide or any other ingredient and bring it to your physician's notice, so that such products can be avoided. For people with minor acidity and digestive issues, it is important to make necessary diet and lifestyle changes rather than overusing antacids and seek medical advice, if appropriate.
It is also imperative that you study the effects of antacids, once you begin using them and if you feel any change or experience any side effects, let your physician know. People with kidney problems, heart disorders, bone and joint problems need to be more careful and cautious before taking antacids. Pregnant and breastfeeding ladies must avoid overusing antacids to avoid any health concerns to the baby. In order to avoid the common side effects of overusing antacids, it is best to follow medical advice.