Antacids for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

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Antacids for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)


Generic NameBrand Name
aluminum hydroxide and magnesium carbonateGaviscon
aluminum hydroxide and magnesium hydroxideDiovol Plus, Maalox, Mylanta
calcium carbonateRolaids, Tums

Antacids are available without a prescription in liquid, chewable tablet, chewing gum, and dissolving tablet forms to be taken by mouth. Liquid antacids may relieve symptoms faster than other forms of antacids.

How It Works

Antacids make stomach juices less acidic (neutralize stomach acid).

Antacids with alginic acid (such as Gaviscon) contain a foaming agent that floats on top of the stomach contents. This may help keep stomach juices from coming in contact with your esophagus.

Antacids that contain simethicone (such as Diovol Plus) may break down gas bubbles in your stomach. This may help reduce burping that might push stomach acid into your esophagus.

Why It Is Used

For people with occasional, mild to moderate symptoms of heartburn, antacids are often all that is needed to control the symptoms.

Many doctors will recommend long-term use of antacids if they help relieve your heartburn. Do not use antacids for more than 2 weeks unless you have talked with your doctor about taking them on a long-term basis.

You can also take antacids to stop heartburn that happens from time to time when you are taking an acid reducer medicine (such as Losec).

How Well It Works

Antacids do not work the same for everyone. For people with occasional, mild to moderate heartburn, antacids may work very well. For people with severe GERD, antacids alone are unlikely to help.

If you want to take medicine only when your symptoms bother you, antacids are a good choice. They relieve symptoms quickly. A single dose of antacid often relieves heartburn for about an hour.

Side Effects

The active ingredients in antacids vary, with the following cautions for each:

  • Calcium carbonate can cause constipation in some people. It can also stimulate acid rebound in some people. Acid rebound occurs when taking antacids causes the stomach to produce even more acid, making heartburn worse.
  • Magnesium-containing antacids can cause diarrhea. If used too often by people who have kidney problems, antacids containing magnesium can lead to too much magnesium in the blood.
  • Aluminum-containing antacids can cause constipation. If used too often by people with chronic kidney failure, antacids containing aluminum can lead to too much aluminum in the blood.

Many antacid preparations combine active ingredients to balance side effects. For example, antacids may contain both magnesium and aluminum to prevent diarrhea or constipation.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Antacids are a simple and inexpensive treatment for heartburn. They are often useful for treating mild GERD or occasional heartburn. Most doctors recommend taking antacids as part of home treatment.

Antacids are taken in varying doses depending on their strength. They take effect within an hour. But their effect usually lasts only a short time compared with other medicines for GERD.

Lifestyle changes and antacids are usually tried first to treat pregnant women who have GERD. Antacids are safe to use for heartburn symptoms during pregnancy. Do not use antacids that have sodium bicarbonate (such as baking soda). They can cause fluid buildup. It is okay to use antacids that have calcium carbonate (such as Tums). If lifestyle changes and antacids don't help control your symptoms, talk to your doctor about using other medicines. Most of the time, symptoms get better after the baby is born.

If you are on a low-salt diet, talk with your doctor or pharmacist before you choose an antacid. Some antacids have a lot of salt (sodium).

Antacids that contain calcium carbonate (such as Rolaids or Tums) may also help boost calcium intake in women who are concerned about developing osteoporosis.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF) (What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Peter J. Kahrilas, MD - Gastroenterology
Last Revised May 18, 2010

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.